A few weeks ago, I read on Adventure Journal.com about the new science of satisfying thirst, (Almost Everything We Know About Hydration is Wrong, 9/27/11) which cited a study by Dr. James Winger of Loyola University Medical Center claiming that most of us drink way too much during times of physical exertion.
Days before this year’s Marine Corp Marathon, one of the most heavily attended and popular beginner marathons in the country, The Washington Post goes all hyponatremia on us, also citing Winger’s work, and discussing the threat of death as a result of a drastic reduction of sodium supplies in our blood cells.
So what gives?
Well, hyponatremia is not some new discovery. (It’s a threat to hikers, too.) However, since it’s less severe symptoms can be manifested in nausea and cramps, it can be easily confused with other forms of exercise-induced illness, like heat illnesses and even dehydration. Thus, it’s probably much more common at the finish line than we think. And of course, what’s the first thing someone hands you after a race?
Winger’s study goes against the mantra of “if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, you’re already dehydrated,” and instead states that the opposite practice is probably the best way to remain sufficiently hydrated, regardless of the severity of your exertion. That is, drink when you’re thirsty.
Probably the most fun fact in Winger’s study is the one that essentially debunks the need for commercial sports drinks. In fact, I can think of no better marketing campaign in need of debunking than that base, downright silly, “three stage” horse shit Gatorade is pitching right now. And why is one of them in a tube?
It was good to see the media address this issue on the eve of such a big event for so many first time marathoners. The advice and resources and strategies for running can get overwhelming in a hurry for newbie disties. Now it looks like how to handle your thirst is yet another thing to worry about.
Like most active and outdoor pursuits, the key is to know your cerebral limits and reconcile them with your physical ones. Stay alert to your body’s needs and in most cases, you’ll cross the line in good shape.