4 Common Hydration Myths

Myth #3: Drink as much water as possible before a race.

Drinking too much water can lead to more than just frequent trips to the bathroom. Hyponatremia, a dangerous drop in blood-sodium levels that can be life-threatening, results from overdrinking—replacing water without adequately replacing sodium lost through sweat. Dizziness, confusion, swollen hands and feet, a throbbing headache and a bloated stomach during or following prolonged exercise can signal overhydration and a dilution of blood-sodium levels. Rapid weight gain during exercise is a definite warning sign that you're overdrinking.

More: How to Avoid Dehydration on Race Day

Female runners are at greater risk due to a smaller blood volume and an increased likelihood of being hyper-vigilant about hydration, especially if following a low-sodium diet. Heavy sweaters, beginning marathoners who tend to run slowly (therefore with more opportunities to drink) and endurance junkies running for more than four hours need to be especially careful about this condition.

To protect yourself from the hazards of both over and underdrinking, follow the International Marathon Medical Directors Association (IMMDA) evidence-based simple rule: Drink when thirsty. In other words, drink to stay hydrated--don't overdrink. Consume sports drinks (with at least 110 milligrams of sodium in eight ounces) for runs longer than an hour or when appropriate to avoid low sodium levels.

More: How Much Water Should You Drink?

Myth #4: Female runners don't need sports drinks.

Female runners often shortchange themselves by skipping sports drinks or using them incorrectly. If you run longer than 60 minutes at a moderate pace, you need to drink every 15 to 20 minutes after the one-hour mark. Based on 30-plus years of scientific research, experts continue to recommend sports drinks that supply fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes over water during longer training efforts and races.

More: Which Fluid Hydrates Beset: Water or Sports Drink?

A well-designed sports drink should contain sugar (carbohydrate) and an ample amount of sodium. Carbs, stored as glycogen, are your body's preferred fuel during exercise, and are the only fuel it can burn during intense or anaerobic efforts, such as sprinting for the finish line.

Your body's glycogen stores are limited, however, so supplementing with a sports drink when you plan to race all-out or push yourself longer than 60 minutes is a real performance booster. Salt is added to improve the absorption of carbs and to help replace the sodium lost through sweat.

Experiment with different sports drink brands to find one that works for you before race day. (Your stomach might not tolerate them all.) If you choose not to consume a sports drink, you still require sodium and supplemental carbohydrate. Carry energy gels (take with water to dilute), and try various electrolyte products such as Nuun tablets to keep up with your sodium needs.

More: How to Create a Race-Day Hydration Plan

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