There are many myths about dehydration and how to avoid it. Here’s some information to set the record straight.
Myth 1: Drink liquids immediately before exertion.
“The biggest hydration myth is to hydrate yourself by drinking liquids and electrolytes prior to exertion,” states Jay Jordan, an over-40, mind-body-performance coach in the health fitness community. Instead, he suggests drinking fluids well in advance of physical activity.
“It will not benefit the athlete to hydrate prior to an event as it is too late,” he states. “The optimal protocol is to hydrate for 36 hours prior to an event as drinking lots of liquids prior to performance will inhibit performance.”
Myth 2: You can’t drink too much water
Yes, you can. “Although uncommon, it is possible to drink too much water,” per the Mayo Clinic’s report on “Factors That Influence Water Needs.” “When your kidneys are unable to excrete the excess water, the electrolyte (mineral) content of the blood is diluted, resulting in low sodium levels in the blood, a condition called hyponatremia,” states the report.
“Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners who drink large amounts of water, are at higher risk of hyponatremia. In general, though, drinking too much water is rare in healthy adults who eat an average American diet.”
Myth 3: Sports drinks hydrate better than water
This is a common myth. “Water hydrates perfectly well,” states Cary Raffle, MS Exercise Science and Health Promotion, Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Orthopedic Exercise Specialist Master Trainer at NYSC.
“The sports drinks have an advantage in activities lasting more than an hour because the 6% glucose has been shown to improve performance in sports, and you may need electrolyte replacement with prolonged sweating,” she states. “They also taste good so they may be easier for some people to drink, especially kids. Aside from that, they are not a necessity.”
Myth 4: Caffeine dehydrates you
If you’re a coffee lover, you can rejoice. Per a recent study published in the Public Library of Science’s PLOS ONE Journal, coffee actually hydrates you. “These data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males, provides similar hydrating qualities to water.”
And The Mayo Clinic reports similar findings. “While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect — meaning that they may cause the need to urinate — they don’t appear to increase the risk of dehydration.”
Myth 5: When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, and it’s too late.
When you’re thirsty, the body is simply trying to tell you it’s time to drink something. “Thirst should provide adequate stimulus for preventing excess dehydration and markedly reduce the risk of developing Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia in all sports,” per hydration guidelines quoted in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
Don’t Listen to the Hydration Hype!
“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,” states a recent, guideline-report from Loyola University Health System. “But excessive fluid intake does not prevent fatigue, muscle cramps or heat stroke.”
“Muscle cramps and heatstroke are not related to dehydration,” says James Winger, MD, Loyola University Medical Center Sports Medicine Physician, Department of Family Medicine of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Associate Professor, and member of the 17-member expert panel who wrote the hydration guidelines mentioned above. “You get heat stroke because you’re producing too much heat,” he states.
This myth, along with the others we’ve mentioned (and all those we didn’t), just show that there is a lot of misinformation out there. When it comes to hydration, don’t always follow advice from friends and family members. Instead, conduct your own research.
And if that’s too much, keep it simple and drink when you’re thirsty!