Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports [Review]

WaterloggedAre you looking for a light and fluffy beach/pool read for the summer?

Well… this probably isn’t it.

Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports
by Tim Noakes, MD, DSc

This book is intense. It’s 429 pages of science. But it’s also incredibly informative and the information contained within could potentially shake up the sports world as we know.  If enough people could be convinced to read the thing, because like I said… it’s pretty intense. It’s not something to curl up with and absorb in an afternoon.  It’s “pick up a highlighter and study” reading. Which is exactly what I did.*

Right off the bat a comment in the book caught my eye because it rang so true with me.

Some physicians and exercise scientists have been taught to view every exercising human as a catastrophe about to happen.
Some physicians and exercise scientists have been taught to view every exercising human as a catastrophe about to happen.

It seems like every athlete that gets injured will inevitably end up at a doctor who tells them to “just stop” what they’re doing and seeking out medical help that approves of our sport can be daunting. The statement in the book is made in regard to the fact that these professionals seem to think that every single person is equally at risk for developing various exercise-induced ailments such as heatstroke, cramping, hyponatremia and many others. This just isn’t the case, the author discusses later on how certain individuals seem to be pre-disposed to these issues yet the masses are being instructed on ways to avoid these as if they are susceptible to the same level.

Did you know that for a long, long, long time endurance athletes either didn’t drink at all or they drank very little? Of course there is the fact that we hadn’t experienced the running boom and the majority of these competitors could run a marathon in the 3:30 range or under and now we have larger crowds and skill levels participating. But these people who are slower than the 3:30 crowd (That’s me!) are being instructed to guzzle, guzzle, guzzle.

"... new generation of runners were not told to train more... they were advised to drink more..."
"... new generation of runners were not told to train more... they were advised to drink more..."

The book discusses the emergence of the sports drink industry. We all know the story that Gatorade had its start at the University of Florida in the 60’s, right? Well before the drink was tested in an actual game, the players were given it without knowing what it was and told that it was “a glucose and electrolyte mixture. If you drink it… you’ll be stronger and feel better…” And since many players chose not to partake of the drink that day, there is the chance that it could have been a powerful placebo effect.

If you drink this magic potion, you’ll be awesome!

The initial studies on Gatorade that deemed it successful were done on just about 21 athletes, all football players on the team. But they had a winning season (a 7-4 record) so word started to spread and other schools NEEDED this potion, which then spread to the NFL.

Plus, early tests done on the absorption of sodium were done by adding the electrolyte test solution directly to the small intestines… not through the normal route of the mouth, throat, stomach that it is consumed.

People were told over and over that they couldn’t trust their instincts or bodies and that they had to start pre-hydrating in excess before events.

If at any time a healthy athlete does not sense thirst, the athlete is not dehydrated.
"If at any time a healthy athlete does not sense thirst, the athlete is not dehydrated."

Noakes’ research did show that carbohydrate ingestion during exercise does help, more than the electrolyte consumption. However, this benefit mainly comes to those who already eat a carb-rich diet. He hasn’t nailed it down completely, but he suspects that those who don’t consume as many carbs don’t benefit.

So what are we to do? The basic summary is that we drink to our thirst, when our bodies tell us to do so.

Drink to thirst

Where do I stand? Well… I’m not entirely sure. Like I said (and like the book acknowledges) all of this information contradicts everything that the sports industry tells us.  But then again, the paragraph about how much of this information is coming from companies that do not care about our individual health as much as they care about their bottom-line speaks volumes to me. And I’m a firm believer in that we’re supposed to trust our bodies, yet so much in the world tries to tell us we’re stupid and shouldn’t listen to that voice. So after reading this book… I’m a little more perplexed but a little more committed to the approach that I had been planning to take while coming back to distance running after pregnancy: drink water when I need it and eat pure honey for carbs/energy.

And one really good thing I took away from the book… in the early chapters it is talking about how human beings are physically adapted to be good long distance runners. One of the reasons was:

"being endowed with prominent rounded buttocks is the unique privilege of humans"
"being endowed with prominent rounded buttocks is the unique privilege of humans"

When I was younger a neighborhood girl called me “bubble butt” and that has haunted me my whole life. I’ve always hated my curvier backside and felt that it was a problem. Well… take that! It just makes me more suited to run. In fact, running uses the glutes more than walking on level ground of standing does. So it turns out that finally becoming a runner was a logical choice for me and my gluteus maximus!

Legalese: This book was provided to me for free for purpose of review. The review is all my own though.
*I had a hard time finding a highlighter that worked… it’s been a long time since I was in college!

2 comments

  1. pretty interesting. in general i agree with the idea that some of the “guidelines” today are in place b/c of the running boom and the fact that most people are not well-trained/seasoned runners. and i’ve heard of too-much-water but never heard of it much to where i thought it was a real problem! but, maybe that is what gets people (with some running ability) on race day (even if they don’t end up in the medical tent with severe hyponatremia) when they don’t run the race they thought they could have.

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