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Hydration Myths: What You Need to Know

by Dr. Jason Barker June 29, 2016

Hydration Myths: What You Need to Know

It seems most athletes today are well aware of the need to hydrate and the "eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day" mantra. Yet, many questions continue to swirl around this topic, especially with our tendencies to overdo what's good in moderation.

But First, A Bit of Hydration History:

In the beginning...athletes were dehydrated. In fact, it was widely thought that forcing oneself through a sweaty workout would toughen oneself up. And to an extent, that is true. Training in an environment similar to that which one will compete in will certainly better prepare (read: toughen!) that person to adapt to the environment.

However, we soon learned that hydrating the body would unequivocally extend performance, and sports drinks were born. Yet, despite the wide availability of sport-specific hydrating drinks, athletes were still suffering (or so it was thought) from suboptimal hydration.

The experts then bestowed their next edict that went something along the lines that (basically) by the time one felt thirsty, it was too late and they were already dehydrated. Thus, everyone was encouraged to consume huge amounts of fluids before, during and after exercise.

Most recently, the pendulum has recently swung back to a less aggressive stance on hydration, to prevent athletes from overhydration.  With that, there are still some myths surrounding hydration that you need to know about:

Myth #1: If your urine isn’t clear, you’re not drinking enough.

If your urine is clear, at this point the body is working really hard to get rid of extra water. What you’re drinking is just coming right out. True, urine shouldn’t look like apple juice – darkly colored urine can signify dehydration (and other problems) – but that doesn’t mean you need to hydrate until it’s clear either.  Light yellow is probably a good color.

Myth #2: Coffee and tea will dehydrate you.

Not true. Caffeine is a diuretic – but not in people who consume it regularly. The body eventually adapts to its diuretic effect, negating any effect on hydration status. One thing to keep in mind is that this effect is quickly reversed. It’s common practice for athletes to avoid all caffeine a week or two before an event, then have a nice big dose of it the morning of for the extra boost. But be careful, this may lead to more time spent in the port-a-potty, going #1 and #2!

Myth #3: Too much water is never enough.

False! It’s easy to drink too much water, and it’s actually really dangerous. Drinking above and beyond what you need is easy to do, and it dilutes the sodium levels in your blood. This is known as hyponatremia and is life threatening.  People who spend longer than 4 hours on the course, at a low intensity are more prone to it due to a fluid intake that doesn’t match sweat output. This is a good example of when your thirst really does know best!

Myth #4: Only water is the best way to hydrate.

Nope. Plain water is what we should drink most of, no doubt. But on hot, sweaty days during prolonged (over an hour) workouts, you need to add electrolytes to that water. Plain water just runs right out of you – it doesn’t ‘stick’ inside the cells. A bit of sodium helps your body absorb the water and hang on to it. There are many options on the market for adding electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium) to your water.

Myth #5: Pounding water helps you detox.

Have you ever had a massage when the therapist tells you afterward to “drink lots of water, it helps you detox”? – Ya me too. Sure, being hydrated is better for your health than being dehydrated, without a doubt. But that doesn’t automatically mean that drinking lots of water somehow flushes toxins out of your body. In fact, too much water is actually a burden on your kidneys as they are forced to get rid of the extra water and maintain electrolyte balance, rather than removing the usual metabolic wastes.

So, what’s a person to do?

1. Stick with water during the day for general hydration

2. Consider an electrolyte mixture in your beverage during and after hot, sweaty exercise.

3. Drink when you’re thirsty. “Pre-loading” water won’t help you if you’re already hydrated.

4. Hydration doesn’t happen instantly after chugging a bottle of water. It can take a few days for the body to be truly hydrated, with normal fluid intake. Don’t get dehydrated, drink a ton of water and then expect to feel good during exercise – you won’t. Instead drink in moderation throughout the day.

Dr. Jason Barker
Dr. Jason Barker

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