What happens if you drink too much?
Drinking too much water can actually lower the concentration of sodium in our body. When the concentration of sodium in the body is too low, it’s called hyponatremia. Sodium ensures that body water is evenly distributed to our tissues, organs and muscles. Hyponatremia often occurs in endurance events when an athlete overestimates the amount of water he/she needs to drink during long, intense exercise. Hyponatremia can cause a variety of symptoms including fatigue, nausea, headache, disorientation, confusion, swelling, seizures and even death. The stress of competition can result in a defect in the body’s ability to maintain a balance between salt intake and fluid output. This results in water overload, which causes organs in the body to swell and may be fatal.
If you haven’t lost weight after intense prolonged exercise, or you have actually gained weight, then it’s likely that you have fluid overload from hyponatremia and need to be seen by a physician ASAP. If your urine is very lightly colored/clear then you are likely well-hydrated, if not over-hydrated, and don’t need to drink more. So don’t overdo it.
Salt intake before and during a long-course triathlon can help decrease the risk of developing hyponatremia, especially in athletes who are “salty sweaters.” Some athletes may add salt to their sports drink or take salt supplements during a long endurance race. Try eating salty snacks or foods such as pretzels, pizza, pickles, tomato juice, canned soups/beans or whatever works for you. Salt isn’t good for everyone—some people have medical conditions for which they need to avoid too much salt and other people are sodium-sensitive. So work with your doctor and/or a sports nutritionist who can help you personalize a hydration and food strategy to optimize your performance and recovery.
This article was contributed the UC San Diego Sports Medicine. To learn more about them call 858-657-8200 or visit Sportsmedicine.ucsd.edu.