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Is Too Much Water Bad for Athletes?

Is Too Much Water

Bad for Athletes?

With football season fast approaching, many young athletes are battling against their arch nemesis: dehydration. Due to widespread beliefs around drinking water, some coaches enact practices as extreme as comparing players’ urine colors. A few young athletes are responding by drinking multiple gallons of water throughout the day, which can lead to overhydration, also known as water poisoning or its more technical term, hyponatremia. This week we’re diving in: is there such thing as a lethal amount of too much water?

two football players rehydrating after football practice

Encouraging or pressuring athletes to hydration?

In 2017, a football coach at The University of Texas created a urine-based “Longhorn Football Hydration Chart” to help label players based on their hydration levels. The coach labeled different colors of urine from “championship hydration levels” down to “you are a bad guy.” He claims that if players can’t even perform the simple task of squirting water into their mouth and drinking it, then they probably can’t perform more complex tasks during a football game. Many stories similar to this one have popped up around the country with not just football, but a multitude of sports in which coaches are pressuring their players to drink extreme amounts of water. Perhaps it’s this type of pressure from adults and coaches that are leads to the cases we’ve seen of overhydration.

Where dehydration warns, overhydration kills suddenly

In 2014 two high school football players consumed lethal amounts of liquid within two weeks of each other. One of these students consumed “two gallons of water and two gallons of Gatorade” after football practice to help prevent muscle cramps and then died shortly after this mass consumption. The other student also died due to overhydration, yet the incident was considered an “unpreventable, freak occurrence”. In both instances, the lethal amount of liquid took its effect shortly after consumption. There were hardly any warning signs before these tragedies took place. With dehydration, people experience mild, annoying symptoms before any real physical trauma occurs. Despite the different in expediency, parents and coaches describe dehydration as the sole villain against health and success in sports. Essentially, young athletes are suffering due because they’re listening to the pressure put on them to hydrate. It’s important to note that while few deaths have been reported due to overhydration, dehydration has accounted for exactly zero athlete deaths. It’s important for authority figures not to push kids too hard against dehydration: an issue which honestly hasn’t been much of an issue.

However, it’s important to note that football or high school sports players aren’t the only athletes at risk of hyponatremia. There was an instance in which marathon runners showed extreme symptoms of hyponatremia after consuming over 100 glasses of water throughout the marathon to help “prevent dehydration.” Athletes of all ages struggle to understand how much water is enough to fuel their body, and how much is too much.

a football player squirting water into his mouth

How does water hurt you?

We’re all told to drink enough water throughout the day to sustain our health. How does water progress from healthy to deadly? To put it simply, when you consume too much liquid, your body has too much water, and too little salt. Too much water or sports drinks dilutes the salt levels in the blood. Once your body drinks more water than it can excrete, the cells in the body swell. Brain swelling from hyponatremia can cause headaches and nausea, while muscle cells swelling causes whole-body muscle cramping. The scary thing is that these symptoms mimic those of dehydration. Most of the time if someone sees a doctor for these symptoms, they’re treated for dehydration with more fluids.

How much water should you drink?

Now you’re faced with a dilemma. Do you refrain from excessive water intake and risk dehydration? Or do you fill up and risk overhydration? The answer probably won’t surprise you: find the middle ground. Humans, like all animals, should just do what’s natural and drink when you’re thirsty. Drink a bit more on hot days where you’re spending lots of time outside, but there’s no need to go overboard in the name of good health. The proper amount of water for your body and lifestyle is likely only a bit more or less than you’re currently drinking, even if you’re an athlete. No two people will need the same amount of water, which is why it’s important to remember to encourage hydration. However, bullying children and athletes by calling them “bad” or “selfish” for not drinking enough water is both silly and, as we’ve seen, can be dangerous.

While you’re figuring out the perfect amount of water for you and your family, let us clean up the water you’re drinking. Call us today and we’ll be happy to install the appropriate water filtration system for your needs, so you can drink the perfect amount of fresh, clean water every single day!