Water & wisdom

Posted on March 19, 2013

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BBsp7mLCAAAnTEy.jpg-largeDid you know that for a long, long, long time endurance athletes either didn’t drink at all or they drank very little?

These are the words of sports medicine guru, Tim Noakes and anyone who runs, knows that this guy is probably the godfather of running.

Unfortunately though, his books tend to be SO huge … a million pages long with tiny print and an overload of intense science that, combined with my short attention span (aka ADD) and inability not to switch off at the sight of any words overly scientific or technical, I’ve not had much success to date.

Thank heavens for podcasts then because you can learn what you need to know, without the context of all the technical blah blah and better still, whilst on a run! Result …

So today … for everyone else who’d rather use the actual book as a doorstop, here’s the lowdown.

Tim Noakes’s new book Waterlogged is a study of hydration in endurance exercise and aims to change our very longstanding beliefs, many of them inaccurate, on how best to fuel in endurance activity.

Combining extensive research, endless performance studies and the fundamentals of human physiology, he takes an exhaustive look at the research and origins of the dehydration myths and the role that industry has played.

The top messages are:

  • The largest life threatening danger in participating in endurance activities is OVERhydration not dehydration.

Noakes calls dehydration a ‘non-disease’ claiming it a manufactured condition made up by the sports drink industry. Think about it. There were no epidemics of dehydration, hyponatremia and heatstroke prior to the introduction of ‘sports drinks’ were there?! Overhydration and the potential for exercise associated hyponatremia (EAH) and hyponatremia encephalopathy (EAHE) are the most frequently observed dangers and have resulted in more than 1,600 reported cases and numerous deaths.

  • The human body is a success not a failure. Much of the sports drink industry is founded on the premise that the human body is not able to cope with the stresses that we might put upon ourselves in participating in an endurance event.

Noakes presents an extensive data and analysis to demonstrate that each of us possess inherent, finely-tuned and effective responses to the onset of dehydration, reductions in electrolyte concentration and heatstroke. Although there is a distribution in how effectively each of our bodies can deal with such stresses, it is only a very small fraction of the population that may face issues with fluid / fuel consumption.

  • Ultimately, we should drink only to thirst, not on a schedule. Drinking does not prevent heat illness and nor is the ingestion of addition salt necessary.

Noakes, of course knows just how controversial his theories are but no-one is better qualified that he to make such claims. He’s been studying running and endurance sports for 50 years after all. He’s authored / co-authored over 250 scientific studies, including over fifty that examine the role of hydration and electrolytes in sports performance. He sits on the boards of the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Olympic Committee’s Science Academy. Oh and he’s also an experienced ultrarunner himself, having raced over seventy marathons and ultras. His book Lore of Running is considered a bible amongst distance runners and the go-to reference book for all things running-related. In it’s fourth edition and coming up to it’s 20th anniversary, it’s certainly standing the test of time!

As for where I stand?

I’m not entirely sure. On one side, all Noakes says contradicts what the sports industry tells us.  But on the other side, most of what the sports industry tells us comes from companies who care far more about their bottom line than the health of individuals.

So I think I’ll just continue to do what I try to embrace and endorse full stop. Listen to my body. Drink to my thirst and eat to my hunger. Hydrate with water rather than non-hyped up sugar-filled sports drinks and fuel with pure carbs for energy.

Listen to your instincts …

yet another perfect demo of running as the greatest metaphor for life.

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