Sometimes, water is not the best solution. Although people have for long been recommended you load up on as many glasses as you can, excess water consumption can leave you lightheaded and nauseous, which are symptoms of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), also known as excessive water retention. According to new guidelines from an international expert panel, you should drink water only when you are thirsty.
Simplifying the three big words, drinking too much water weakens the kidneys’ ability to excrete excess water load, and also dilutes the sodium levels in the body. This leads to swelling in the cells, which can be life-threatening. EAH seems to commonly occur during endurance competitions such as marathons, triathlons, canoe races, swimming and military exercises.
Symptoms of mild EAH include dizziness, nausea, puffiness and weight gain, while in training. Symptoms of severe EAH include vomiting, headache, altered mental status (confusion, agitation, delirium, etc), seizures, and sometimes even coma.
Athletes often are mistakenly advised to “push fluids” or drink more than their thirst dictates by, for example, drinking until their urine is clear, or drinking to a prescribed schedule. But, excessive fluid intake does not prevent fatigue.
“Muscle cramps and heatstroke are not related to dehydration,” said James Winger, sports medicine physician at Loyola University Medical Center and a member of the 17-member expert panel. “Modest to moderate levels of dehydration are tolerable and pose little risk to otherwise healthy athletes. An athlete can safely lose up to three percent of his or her body weight during a competition due to dehydration without loss of performance,” Winger said.
As for the loss of sodium, we recently discussed the many benefits of vegemite as a post-workout snack. It replenishes the sodium depletion you may experience after a workout. It also eases cramps that may be a result of dehydration, by providing the right nutrients to the muscles.
Alternately, use the hydration pyramid to get your fill, instead of knocking back glasses of water (fruits and veggies are both great sources).