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Weekend Exercise Tips: Drinking too much water…is it possible?

May 11, 2012

Drinking too much Water

Water intoxication or Hyponatremia, is the result of drinking excessive amounts of plain water. It has been documented in endurance events that a very small percentage of athletes have become ill due to this.

Drinking too much water causes a low concentration of sodium in the blood.

Excessive sweating over a long period of time increases the risk that an athlete will upset the balance of blood-sodium concentration.  Sodium is depleted in sweat so it is important for those exercising to replace any these losses. This is especially so over intense activity over a long period of time and/or in the heat.  Sodium is important for the proper functioning and transmission of nerve impulses.

It has been shown that endurance atheletes can finish events with low blood sodium concentrations. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (April, 2005) found that 13% of Boston Marathon runners developed hyponatremia from drinking too much water.

Adequate sodium balance is necessary for transmitting nerve impulses and proper muscle function, and even a slight depletion of this concentration can cause problems.  Studies have shown that high intensity athletes can lose up to 2 grams of salt per litre of sweat. Replacing this during the event is critical to performance and safety.

Symptoms of Hyponatremia

Symptoms are often subtle but may be similar to dehydration and include cramps, nausea and confusion. Athletes when experiencing the symptoms often drink more water because they think they are dehydrated.  Water by itself actually exacerbates the problem of hyponatremia.  At the most extreme an athlete may experience seizures, coma, or death.


Athletes should drink a sodium containing sports drink or eat food that contains salt. If you are doing sports or exercise the best advice is to plan. Take a drink with salts and have food at an appropriate time. This is specially important for long events.

Prevention is the best cure

Hydration recommendations include using a sodium containing sports drinks in events which are more than 60-90 minutes long.

Increase salt intake per day several days prior to competition (except for those with hypertension).

A rule of thumb is to drink about 1 cup of appropriate fluid (about 0.25 litres) every 20 minutes of exercise.

In the days leading up to the event add salt to your foods (Check with your doctor if you have hypertension!).

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medicines contain sodium and recent research suggests that these drugs may predispose runners to hyponatremia (if in doubt check with your doctor).

Some level of individualisation is required as we are all different. You can check your fluid loss when you are training to see how much fluid loss typically is occurring (weigh yourself before and after training). This will give you a good idea about the rate of loss of fluid that you experience.  Foods that provide additional sodium include chicken noodle soup, a dill pickle, cheese, pretzels, and tomato juice.

Some herbs & spices that may help to maintain levels of sodium and in an infusion will provide extra functionality: Fennel (88 mg / 100 g); Holy Basil (34 mg / 100 g); Mint (31 mg / 100g); Cinnamon (26 mg / 100g).

Check out The Wise Herb Company’s UP&GO for additional Energy Boosting properties!

Before embarking on an exercise programme: Consult your doctor for any specific medical conditions you have or have had.

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