Hydration systems for runners have come a long way over the years. With soft chest bottles, hard handheld bottles, plastic, pvc, stainless steel, screw tops, pop-tops, bladders on our backs. We now have more options than ever, on how to keep hydrated in comfort. One thing that remains in common, is that there are bacteria and sickness risks associated with drinking from any of these liquid containers. So unless we wash bottles thoroughly, harmful bacteria from tap water and saliva will reproduce inside the bottle. This bacteria can lead to sickness and gastroenteritis, causing a loss of appetite, aching limbs, fever, headaches and vomiting. The last thing you want during or when preparing for a race is a bout of uncontrollable diarrhoea. We know how fragile our stomachs and digestive system can become when we run, so we may need to consider how to best not provoke the beast.
Where does the bacteria come from?“
Dr Peter Fox, a consultant on water quality- “Water that is left for a few days after you refill a bottle will go off. There are naturally organisms in tap water that would start to reproduce in the water, fungi and bacteria and could produce something harmful. Slime bacteria, or Pseudomonas, live in household pipes and taps, but only at low concentrations in tap water that isn’t dangerous. But if a bottle is refilled and left at room temperature, the bacteria can reproduce and build up a culture that could give you a virus. I personally wouldn’t want to drink water that’s left in a bottle for more than four days.”
Dr Pete Iwen, an expert in Microbiology-“When you drink from a container, some saliva is backwashed into the liquid in the container. Saliva provides not only the microorganisms for transmission but also acts as a nutrient for the organisms to multiply.”
What can increase our risks?
-Reusing “one off use” water bottles. These can deteriorate and crack over time from everyday wear and tear. This physical breakdown of the plastic can harbour bacteria in the visible thinning or cracks, posing a health risk.
-Remaining at room temperature/warm environments (the floor or boot of our cars) for an extended period of time.
-Nutrients from “backwash” after having a sip.
-Not cleaning or poor cleaning.
-Not drying out after clean.
-Pop top systems, where you touch the bottle mouth.
-Water additives/electrolytes add more nutrients for bacteria growth.
-Sharing hydration systems.
What can we do to avoid sickness
1. When purchasing hydration systems, consider how you will clean them.
2. Avoid purchasing hydration systems that require you to handle the point where you drink from.
3. Purchase cleaning tools and products designed for that hydration system.
4. Consider bladder based hydration systems to minimise backwash.
5. Not to leave leave liquids in too long, to reuse and drink within a day.
6. Wash out and dry after every use.
7. Use our own hydration systems and avoid sharing.
8. Once refilled, store hydration systems in the fridge or freezer, to keep them out of ideal bacteria growth temperature.
Cleaning and Storage
If you have a bladder style hydration system and you haven’t cleaned it after every use, and mould or discolouration happens to develop…
- Use hot water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda or bleach. Mix the solution inside your bladder and hold it up above your head while you pinch the bite valve, allowing the bleached water to run through the tube. You can also use Hydration System Cleaning Tabs.
- Let the bladder and cleaning solution sit for about 30 minutes.
- Wash the bladder with hot water and mild soap. Be sure to completely rinse away any bleach or cleaning solution before using again. You can also use Specific Hydration System brushes and Cleaning Kits to scrub your bladder and tube. Brushes are the best way to ensure you are scrubbing all of the areas of the bladder clean.
- Once the bladder is clean, be sure to air dry the reservoir so no moisture is trapped inside, which can cause mould/bacteria to grow.
These above steps will make your bladder safe for use, even if your bladder has left over, permanent mould stains.
We would love to hear of any more handy tips you have for keeping our hydration systems clean and hygienic, so please feel free to leave comments with your thoughts and experience to share.
Happy and healthy running