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Too Much Water? It's Possible, and a Problem

Sports Drink

It's something you hear at every sports practice, from peewee soccer to the high school football field: drink lots of water. While it's good advice, it may be a bit misguided. A new report about over hydration shows that by encouraging kids to drink, drink, drink, we may be putting them at risk for serious health complications - and in some cases even death.

"What we need to be telling athletes is to drink enough," says Jeffery Cline, MD, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist with University of Utah Health. "Use thirst as a guide and have adequate and appropriate fluids available to maintain hydration."

Drinking too much fluid can lead to a condition known as hyponatremia. "This is where sodium in the body is too low from excessive sodium loss in sweat or urine," says Cline. "Or it is diluted by taking in too much free water without any electrolytes."

Hyponatremia can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, muscle cramps, and in severe cases coma, seizures, and death. "These are difficult as they can also mimic signs of dehydration," says Cline. "That's why you need to monitor fluid intake to determine if the symptoms are being caused by excessive fluid intake or very limited intake."

Hyponatremia is seen most commonly in sports like marathon running, or other endurance contests where athletes would take in more water than they would lose during the event. The prevalence actually led to a change on many courses. "Marathons have started to decrease the number of water stations to help avoid runners who think that forcing water down will help improve their performance by minimizing dehydration," says Cline.

To walk the line between dehydration and over hydration, it's best to listen to your body. "Don't force yourself to drink excessively but don't be afraid to drink if you feel thirsty," says Cline. "I usually recommend taking water breaks every 15 minutes in the heat. One sports drink per hour of exercise is also recommended to replace electrolyte losses."