After much deliberation, a 17-member expert panel representing four countries and nine specialties, including sports medicine, body fluid homeostasis and exercise physiology, have come to the research-based consensus that people should really just, well, drink water when they’re thirsty, you know?
The experts came together in Carlsbad, California, in February to address exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), a condition in which a person’s sodium levels drop dangerously low, often as a result of drinking too much water. The subsequent guidelines, derived from the Third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, were published in July, and the message is clear: Use your innate thirst mechanism.
"Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration," the group wrote, reaching previously unseen levels of jargonese.
Yep, after countless blog posts and huge amount of research, the truth is you should really just use your “innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption.” As in, you should just take a sip of water when you want to take a sip of water, rather than loading up on ridiculous amounts of H20 before you go through a limits-testing workout.
The guidelines weren’t created in a vacuum. All over the Internet, there are suggestions about how much water you should drink throughout the course of the day and especially before workouts. That's led to problems in the past, and the concern is that people are overloading on water because of bad information. Is it sad to think that we as a society have gone on what is literally a 360-degree journey on the way to the most obvious answer possible? Is it pathetic that we do not trust our bodies, which have been refined over eons by evolutionary forces, to decide when we should eat and drink? Neither question is for us to answer.
EAH isn’t a joke by the way. The reports note that at least 14 athletes have died as a result of the metabolic condition since 1981 -- a small but wholly avoidable number. The athletes who died include football players and bicyclists. People who have experienced “symptomatic hyponatremia” include someone performing Bikram Yoga and a woman whose workout included two hours of tennis and weightlifting. So overhydration is a real but easily solvable problem.
The conference at which the guidelines were created was sponsored by CrossFit, which also paid for the hotel, meal expenses and travel of some of the panel. But Crossfit played no role in the creation of the guidelines, nor saw them before publication, and the guidelines were approved by the peer-reviewed Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in May. So, yeah.
In summary, drink water. Not too much. Mostly when thirsty.