Do You Drink Too Much Water When You Run?

By Deborah Dunham for Blisstree.com

Just when we think we’ve got it drilled into our heads -- hydrate, hydrate, hydrate when we exercise -- researchers now tell us we may be doing too much of a good thing.

According to a new study by Loyola University Health System, half of us runners may be drinking too much –- particularly during a race. The study found that more than one-third of runners drink according to a preset schedule or to maintain a certain body weight, and nearly 9 percent drink as much as possible. Doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right? Water is good. We’re supposed to drink eight glasses a day; more when we’re exercising and even more when doing so during the heat.

But some researchers are now saying this strategy is all wrong.

“Many athletes hold unscientific views regarding the benefits of different hydration practices,” the study says. In addition to drinking too much which can cause hyponatremia (a dangerous medical condition that can dilute the sodium content of blood to abnormally low levels), many of us also incorrectly believe we need to ingest extra salt while running, which is just not true.

Co-author of the study and exercise physiologist, Lara Dugas, explained:

We have been trained to believe that dehydration is a complication of endurance exercise. But in fact, the normal physiological response to exercise is to lose a small amount of fluid. Runners should expect to lose several pounds during runs, and not be alarmed.

Unlike earlier days when sports drink commercials convinced us that we needed to hydrate every time we turned a corner, experts now say we should only drink when we’re thirsty, which makes perfect sense. In some regards.

As a runner for 20 years, I have also been told that by the time I realize I’m thirsty during a race, it’s too late to hydrate. Getting enough fluids in the body and having them ensure optimal performance takes time. Drinking a cup or two of water when you’re already parched, I have found, won’t make a difference -- especially in a longer race. Instead, the best thing to do is to get yourself well-hydrated the day before -- to the point where your urine is a pale yellow, like it always should be -- and then to consume water or sports drinks at certain intervals during a race, according to what has worked for you during training.

The point is, don’t let this study scare you into under-hydrating. It’s a balance.

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