Athletes who drink excessive amounts of water to compensate for losing fluid during a workout or event are putting themselves at the same risk as not hydrating enough.
Dehydration is a summertime buzzword for athletes—and for good reason. The warmer your body gets, the more you sweat. In that sweat you lose fluid and important electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration, negatively impacting performance and causing serious health problems.
Unfortunately, overhydration, another potential health hazard, is rarely talked about. Overhydration can even lead to life-threatening complications that may be even more dangerous than dehydration.
Make overhydration your buzzword this summer. Here's what you need to know about it.
What Is Overhydration?
Fluid recommendations made for athletes are overstated and dehydration is a normal part of exercise and has been mistakenly blamed for heat-related illness in endurance exercise, according to Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports, by Tim Noakes, researcher and professor in exercise and sports science.
More importantly, Noakes notes that overhydration is a more common and serious condition seen in endurance athletes because drinking more than the body needs or can process can lead to hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia causes low blood sodium levels, which can result in a number of life-threatening complications. This has been the cause of a large number of race-related fatalities. Consider hydration guidelines to figure out how much water you need to stay properly hydrated.
Do the Math
The maximum rate at which the body can absorb fluid is about 600 milliliters (or about 20 fluid ounces) per hour. The maximum rate at which the body can excrete fluid is between 600 and 800 milliliters per hour. In other words, athletes should drink 4 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
This could add up to 12 to 32 ounces per hour, depending which side of the range you chose to follow. Continually taking in fluids on the high end of this scale could lead to overhydration. If you're not calculating every sip you take, you need to know how to recognize the signs of hyponatremia.