Recent studies show that many people are drinking too much water, including sports drinks, when they are engaged in physical exercise. This practice could put a number of individuals who engage in strenuous exercise or competition at risk of hyponatremia. Also known as water intoxication, many health experts say that this condition hampers one’s ability to metabolize water. The long list of individuals who are affected by this condition includes runners, tri-athletes, cyclists, martial artists, to name a few.
In the past, athletes and fitness buffs were advised to drink all they can before, during, and after exercise or training. However, health and fitness experts still encourage the practice of smart drinking of both water and sports drinks. But clearly, drinking too much liquid is as dangerous as having too few liquids in one's system. Excess fluid in the body waters down or dilutes the blood, leading to risky low salt levels in body. In addition, the brain cells of individuals with hyponatremia may absorb too much water which leads to brain swelling. Water may push against the skull and therefore lead to seizures. Severe cases of this condition may lead to breathing difficulties and eventually death.
"Humans are actually designed quite well for dehydration," said Dr. Timothy David Noakes, chairman of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa. "There is very little evidence it has any effect until one becomes very dehydrated -- by which time your mouth is so dry, and you have such extreme thirst, that this would never happen. You are going to find water or a sports drink. There is no way you will be seriously dehydrated when you start a race," he adds.
So how do you know how much to drink? Experts say that the solution is not to drink too much. Consuming water alone during strenuous activities may not be the best option because the body loses essential amounts of carbohydrates and electrolytes. Health experts say that the guidelines for water consumption during training includes 20 ounces of fluid before exercise, and over the course of every hour of exercise drink between 28 to 40 ounces of fluid.
In general, athletes and health buffs should take in the adequate amount of sodium days and even hours prior to an endurance event. Athletes often take salt tablets before a race. On hot sunny days, drinking one half cup of plain generic pedialyte may help. There is argument that sports drinks do work and one that says they don't work. They do seem to work but they are not high in sodium concentration and actually have a ton of sugar. So it's best to not rely on them for sodium replacement but t o supplement with salty foods.Dehydration can be dangerous. Nonetheless, drinking too much water poses a serious threat as well. So looking out for the earliest signs and symptoms of hyponatremia is very important for any athlete or any individuals who engage in strenuous activities.