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Drink when you wake up! Drink when you’re tired! Drink when you’re hungry! Drink to lose weight! Drink when you’re thirsty! Drink when you sweat! Drink, Drink, Drink, DRINK!!!! Most people aren’t aware that they have a drinking problem. In fact, overhydration for athletes can be just as dangerous as being dehydrated.

Clinically called hyponatremia, this condition causes the level of sodium in your blood to be abnormally low. The electrolyte sodium helps regulate water levels in the fluid in and around the cells. When this electrolyte is low the body’s water levels rise, and the cells begin to swell. This is a serious and sometime fatal health issue.

Some athletes and coaches worry that dehydration leads to cramping and heat illnesses. So hoping to keep themselves safe they “Drink Up” before, during and after practice, whether they are thirsty or not. If the athlete develops cramps or feel extremely hot they down more of that refreshing H2O. According to the latest science dehydration during sports is rarely dangerous but overhydration….

Some things to consider:

  • The maximum rate at which the intestines can absorb fluid is, on average, about 600 mL (or 20.3 fl oz.) per hour. The kidneys can only excrete fluid at a rate of about 800 mL/hr in males and closer to 600 mL/hr for smaller females. If fluid is ingested above these rates, it will be retained and may cause a number of problems associated with hyponatremia.
  • Dehydration, or rather a reduction in body weight due to exercise, is a normal part of exercise. The only symptom of dehydration is thirst and often, this thirst becomes overwhelming that the athlete is compelled to drink when fluid is available. Furthermore, studies have disproved the claim that a reduction in body weight <2% results in impaired performance.
  • There is a lack of evidence to support the theory that not drinking during exercise is dangerous.
  • Drinking enough to satisfy thirst resulted in a 90% performance advantage compared to drinking below thirst and a 63% performance advantage over drinking above the thirst response.

Things to note:

  • Pay attention to your thirst mechanism. Extreme focus on your performance can masks the thirst sensation…So pay attention to what your body is telling you!
  • During events. Drink when you are thirsty. Don’t over drink! If you develop cramps sit out, if you are hot pour water over your head or find shade. If you are finding you are gaining weight after your event of feel sluggish you have guzzled too much liquid.
  • Keep in mind all the fluids you take in. Your protein shake, your pre workout drink, post workout drink, during workout. These all contribute your your water levels. Just be aware.
Hyponatremia Symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Decreased consciousness or coma
Avoiding Overhydration
  • Drink small amounts of fluids at regular intervals. You shouldn’t ever feel “full” of water though.
  • Eat half of a banana a half hour before a workout to give your body the potassium it needs.
  • When working out in hot conditions or for more than an hour, be sure to drink a sports drink that has sodium and potassium.
  • Try to eat snack foods with salt, like pretzels or chips before and after long, hot workouts.
  • Avoid taking aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen during any race or long workout, as it may interfere with kidney function.

  1. Noakes, T. Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2012.
  2. Rosner, MH, Kirven J. Exercise-associated hyponatremia. Clinical Jounal of the American Society of Nephrology, 2007;2(151-161).
  3. Goulet, ED. Effect of exercise-induced dehydration on endurance performance: evaluating the impact of exercise protocols on outcomes using a meta-analytic procedure. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2012.
  4. Wyndham CH, Strydom NB. The danger of an inadequate water intake during marathon running. South African Journal of Medicine, 1969; 43(893-896).
Adam Legas

Adam Legas

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