How do you spot a runner? There are many telltale signs that will give away a runner in your midst but what is a sure fire positive indicator is someone who obsessively carries around a bottle of water and guzzles it nearly as often as they breathe.
Running and water are intrinsically and intimately interlinked (how many words beginning with “in” can you say together?!). Running demands water to keep it up and water demands running to keep it…flowing? Yeh, you get the idea. Runners need to drink more water than the average person, or anyone who takes part in physical activity – with an increase in activity levels, human beings secrete more, sweat more or simply put, just lose more water. We need to replace the extra water lost by our bodies during this time so that it is able to carry out its fundamental and vital functions.
This loss of water will be apparent when you pee after taking part in any kind of demanding exercise. Go for a long run and even with taking drinks along the way and after you return, you’ll notice that your pee is much darker than normal and will take a little while to return to normal.
The Basic Stuff – What Does Water ACTUALLY do? We all know water is essential to keep us alive but do you know why?
Fun facts! Your body is mainly water – 50-70%ish. Exactly how much depends on your age, as well as body composition (muscle v fat) because muscle tissue contains more water than fat.
As well as water itself containing minerals and electrolytes, it’s also a solvent. It dissolves other substances and carries nutrients and other material (such as blood cells) around the body, making it possible for every organ to do its job.
A healthy body has just the right amount of fluid inside and outside each cell, a situation medical folk call fluid balance. Maintaining fluid balance in the body is essential to life. Too little water inside a cell, it shrivels and dies. Too much, the cell bursts.
Not that this would be a fun thing to do but… if you had to, you could live without food for weeks at a time, getting subsistence levels of nutrients by digesting your own muscle and fat. But water is different. Without it, you’d die in a matter of days — more quickly in a place warm enough to make you perspire and lose water more quickly.
We need water to:
Digest food, dissolving nutrients so that they can pass through the intestinal cell walls into your bloodstream, and move food along through your intestinal tract.
Carry waste products out of your body.
Provide a medium in which biochemical reactions such as metabolism (digesting food, producing energy, and building tissue) occur.
Send electrical messages between cells so that your muscles can move, your eyes can see, your brain can think, and so on.
Regulate body temperature — cooling your body with moisture (perspiration) that evaporates on your skin.
Lubricate your moving parts.
We lose water every day without being aware of it – through breathing, sweating, urine and bowel movements.
Runners tend to be uber-aware of drinking more water knowing that they have probably sweated off a lot of their water stores during sessions. You’re always conscious of not wanting to deplete the your hydration levels to ensure the body has enough to do its basic work (as above) but also to stave off cramping, which can occur as a result of dehydration.
But Can You Drink Too Much?
Holding my hands up here, I was first to dismiss this “too much water” thing as (a) likely to occur to me and (b) in any way a serious issue. Yeh, I’d read about it before and thought about it on and off, but I always thought it would take some extreme water-drinking to get to the stage where it became dangerous. But then I got blood tests back last week which revealed I have very low levels of sodium in my body, that this is likely making me very tired and not good for the functioning of my body.
What is Hyponatremia? Hyponatremia is a condition where due to an intake of too much fluid, the salt concentration in the blood reduces such that water swells the cells and the bloodstream slows. It’s an overhydration of the body that leads to low blood sodium and dilutes the salt levels in your body. Symptoms include nausea, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach bloating, dizziness, muscle spasms, vomiting, and seizures. Acute hyponatremia can have serious consequences, including brain disease, cardiac arrest, cerebral edema, seizures, coma, and death—arguably making hyponatremia the most important health risk many endurance athletes may face.
Hyponatremia occurs most often during marathons and long triathlons, when athletes are exercising longer and drinking more than they do in training. Non-competitive runners who require more than four hours to complete a marathon are more susceptible to hyponatremia than faster athletes. Smaller women may also be more susceptible.
What is too much water? My doctor told me that people who typically are hyponatremic drink between 2-3 litres of water a day (which is me) and she advised me to reduce to no more than 1.5 litres for a week and see how I am then. It’s possible that given that I am not currently running, I don’t need as much water as I would when I’m marathon training, for example and that perhaps this is what’s causing an imbalance.
Now where it can confusing is through what we hear and read about from magazines, newspaper and other media sources. The US Institute of Medicine state that an adequate intake for men is roughly about 3 liters of total beverages a day. For women, 2.2 liters. Then there’s the good old myth to drink 8 glasses of water a day – my personal favourite because what as a kid, I could never decide what glass were they talking about? Big, little, tall, champagne flute? Too many options in my opinion… But the thing to remember is that these figures refer to the TOTAL intake of fluid in a given day. Coffee, soup, soft drinks and even food all count towards replacing lost fluids. S’all going in there.
In other words, you’re probably taking in much more fluid than you realise so don’t get too hung up on the figures.