One would think that hydration is as simple a thing as drinking water when you’re thirsty, but when it comes to athletes, not even that is simple. Furthermore, there’s a whole interesting history behind drinking while performing endurance exercise, one that started over a century ago. So, before going on your next running or cycling practice, maybe you should get informed about it.
Hydration before the 1970s
As silly as it might sound today, before the 1970s, a generally negative attitude prevailed towards drinking while running long distances. Why? Well, those athletes that won the races lost more fluids and weight than those behind them. So, it only made sense to people back then that it’s exactly that loss what made them successful in what they were doing. That is why it was concluded that hydration is something to be avoided during those long races, whether with runners or with cyclists. Restoring the lost fluid was seen as something that would slow an athlete down, diminish their strength and meddle with their performance in a bad way and it was recommended that they drink little or no water during races, even in blazing heat. The same applied to eating, and not even the development of what was once to become sports drinks could change this general opinion. These drinkscontained water, sugar and lemon at first, with salt added to them several decades later, evolved into a multi-million industry today, but back then, they were frowned upon, as all liquid was seen as an obstacle on an athlete’s road to success.
Hydration in the 1970s and 1980s
With the popularization of running, in the late 1960s and early 1970s people gave more thought to the importance of hydration and more research was done on the topic. People became increasingly aware of various illnesses related to dehydration. Another important difference between this and the previous period was that hydration status could now be measured in no time, without difficulty. Just like that, people went from drinking nothing at all while exercising, to measuring themselves before and after exercise and trying to replenish all the lost fluid by loading themselves with water or sports drinks. Again, the thinking was straightforward and considered completely logical. It was now believed that heat exhaustion and other, similar conditions were in part caused by dehydration and since they caused problems for athletes, in order to avoid these problems, an athlete should drink as much fluid as necessary to completely erase dehydration from this equation and thus have heat exhaustion and illnesses similar to this one erased from its result as well. However, they were mistaken once again. Carrying a reusable 2 litre water bottleto make up for some of the lost fluids was a good idea, but making up for all of it? Not really. Instead of the bad effects of dehydration, many athletes now had problems with hyponatremia or excessive hydration.
Hydration from the 1990s to now
With the occurrence of hyponatremia as a problem for athletes, it was time to once again conduct research and reconsider the previous views on hydration. It was only then that the reasonable balance was found and accepted by athletes. They’ve now found that losing some water and dehydrating by a few percent is perfectly fine when running or cycling, and even preferable since it can maximize one’s performance. So, instead of drinking no water and drinking too much of it, athletes now do what seems only natural – they drink by thirst. That way they don’t restore all of their fluid losses, but they drink the right amount of water to keep them from being dehydrated while keeping their performance at a high level. The top runners still lose more weight and drink less water or sports drinks than the slower ones, but dehydration stopped being a desirable occurrence in this context, moderation being the key now.
The history of hydration shows us that we should be careful when interpreting the facts and to think twice before believing something blindly since human error is something that we can count on in most situations. Who knows, maybe even the today’s beliefs will seem ridiculous to us tomorrow.
About the Author:
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.