So you’re running a marathon. One of the big things you’re probably going to do is hydrate like it’s your job before and during the event. You’re going to inhale Gatorade out on the course, and if you’re a heavy sweater, you might even add in some salt tablets for good measure. No matter what, you’re going to make sure you stay ahead of your sweat rate and retain all that valuable fluid.
I’ve just finished up reading Waterlogged, the Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports, by Timothy Noakes, MD, DSc. Essentially, the book turns that whole scenario, and everything we’ve ever learned about hydration as endurance athletes, on its head.
Dr. Noakes is not a new kid on the block. His book, The Lore of Running, is widely regarded as a bible of the sport. But one thing that makes Dr. Noakes especially unique is that he has never given up researching all the common theories of the sport, including some of those that he himself devised. In his opinion, the commercialization of sports drinks in the United States has sent us down the wrong path with hydration.
Noakes claims that we all were born with everything we need when it comes to hydration–our thirst mechanism. It’s quite simple, he says: drink to thirst. Nothing more, nothing less. When you do drink more than when thirsty, you’re setting yourself up for performance drops, as well as the potentially deadly condition of hyponatremia–even when ingesting sports drinks.
Noakes’ book doesn’t just run on theory–he backs up his claims over and over again with lengthy scientific evidence (so much so that I had to flip over the sometimes dull lists of charts and citations). He also points out that all of the world’s top marathon times have been earned by runners who were actually on the dehydrated side of the equation, and down more than the long-standing rule of two percent body weight loss.
I know that embracing something that is so radically different from what we’ve been told for years over isn’t always easy. But if you are intrigued by the argument that perhaps we’ve all been overdoing the hydration equation, I highly recommend giving his findings a read. If you’d like the Cliff’s Notes version, head on over to Runners Connect, where my coach Jeff Gaudette has a great podcast interview with Dr. Noakes.
And, in a funny twist of timing, Runner’s World just published the findings of a study on hydration/underhydration here if you’d like to compare and contrast.
What do you think? Is it possible we’ve been getting hydration all wrong?