Beliefs about hydration and physiology drive drinking behaviours in runners

Journal Title (Medline/Pubmed accepted abbreviation): Br. J. Sports Med.
Year: 2011
Volume: 45
Page numbers: 645-649
doi (if applicable):10.1136/bjsm.2010.075275

Summary of Background and Research Design

Background:Exercise-induced hyponatremia (EAH) is a condition caused by overconsumption of water or other dilute beverages, especially while exercising. While the risks of dehydration are emphasized in our society, many athletes are unaware of the risk and consequences of over-hydration and EAH.
Objective:To collect beliefs and practices of athletes in regard to fluid replacement during exercise.

Subjects:197 runners

Experimental design:observational (no intervention)

Protocol:An online survey was distributed to runners participating in at least 1 of 3 races near Chicago IL in autumn 2009. The survey inquired about drinking habits and motivations of drinking during distance races.

Summary of research findings:
  • Just over half of runners drank both water and sports beverages (like Gatorade).
  • Just over half of runners drank when thirsty, while about one third drank on a set schedule or to maintain body weight. A large number of runners, 8.9%, drank as much as possible and was identified as a “high risk group” for EAH.
  • Runners did not think their beliefs were influenced by sports drink companies, and reported that personal experience was what they trusted the most in regard to beverage intake during running.
  • The majority of the runners thought that drinking less would lead to a slower run.
  • Assessed by a few differently worded questions, it appeared that many runners did not understand the causes, consequences, or means to prevent exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). In total, 17.9% admitted they were not familiar with the condition while others showed misunderstandings about EAH.

Interpretation of findings/Key practice applications:

Dehydration (causes, dangers, and ways of prevention) is generally understood by practically all runners. However, the authors emphasized that EAH is a very common, real condition that is unknown to a large proportion of runners. The authors further contended that there is a large, “high risk group” of runners that believe (and practice) drinking as much fluid as they can during exercise is best for their health. It is important for all players in the exercise community- athletes, coaches, trainers, parents, event planners, etc- to expose the dangers to overconsumption of fluid during exercise.
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