Hydration and Performance


This week I decided it would be a good experience, and experiment to drink a gallon of water. I have done research on the ideal amount of water someone needs in a day. And like most research I came up with multiple perspectives.  Initially I read many proponents of the most commonly heard recommendation of 8×8…Eight 8oz. glasses a day. Given the differences in body size, sweat patterns, exercise, and geography, this seemed very generic. I then ran into the body building, fitness competitor world where 120lb females were drinking 2 plus gallons of water a day per their coaches recommendation. A more customized suggestion being that you take 1/2 your body weight in lbs, and that is the number of ounces you should aim for, PLUS factoring in lifestyle choices like exercise, altitude, humidity, how much you sweat, and to add on top of that baseline. This seemed more than reasonable. I sweat quite a bit, Nashville is VERY humid and it is June, I figured…hmmm, I think a Gallon of water over the course of 12-14 hours seems more than reasonable. Boy was I wrong.

I am a little embarrassed even typing this because I should have been more well-informed and I had even heard of instances of Water Intoxication, also called Water Poisoning or Hyponatremia. In very basic terms, this occurs when you consume too much fluid, namely water, which dilutes the bodies’ sodium levels such that you actually experience dehydration like symptoms. Symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, brain fog, and headache. In severe cases Hyponatremia can be fatal…the cells throughout the body, including in the brain begin to swell due to the sodium imbalance and can eventually cause protrusion of the brain stem. This is not to be an alarmist. I am still sitting here alive and typing, but I DEFINITELY overconsumed the amount of water that my body was able to handle. About 6pm the evening of my experiment, I had finished off the last of my gallon. I had essentially carried on my day, exercise and diet protocol as usual, but had probably doubled my typical water intake once I looked back to assess what I normally drink compared to the volume of the 128 oz. I had put down that day. What I had neglected to do, or to consider is that if I did not supplement with additional sodium, amongst other electrolytes like Potassium, magnesium, then my sodium levels would drop too low and my body would not be able to regulate them efficiently enough to keep up with the water intake levels.

The best comparison I can give to explain the feeling is that I felt intoxicated. I was dizzy, had a hard time even keeping my eyes open. I had cotton mouth despite how much water I had drank the day before, and my urine was bright yellow. It seemed so counter intuitive to have doubled my water intake, and end up with indicators of dehydration. The body is an amazing mechanism. The fact that it will fill in the holes where we are too ignorant to do so, is pretty incredible. You hear this often with the fitness competitor community. When people attempt water manipulation techniques they often get the reverse of what they want. Here is an example…

When you increase water intake 3-4 days before the event, the goal is that you are filling your muscles, and cells so they look fuller…however, if you surpass your threshold of volume and do not manage sodium levels, then you will start to “spill over” and the water OUTSIDE (extracellular) the cell will begin to increase. This will create inflammation subcutaneously…between the muscles and the skin. When this happens you actually look flatter, not fuller. In order to effectively manipulate water you have to know your own thresholds, you have to understand the connection of water, sodium and hydration of the cells, both inside and outside the cell.

So, what did I take away from this little “experiment’. First of all, I was remiss in doing my homework and I could have really gotten sick if not died. There have been numerous cases of military, endurance athletes, and general population folks who have overconsumed to fatal levels. That could have easily been me. Never just assume or try something you have not diligently researched. Secondly, there is always the point at which a good thing turns bad. In nearly ALL Cases, water is one of if not the most important element to weight management, health and proper body function. But, everyone has a individualized need. For most people, listening to thirst cues, drinking a glass of water with every meal, limiting caffeine, alcohol and carbonation will keep you well within the parameters of what you need. Our bodies are intuitive. If you monitor urine color…which should NOT be clear, it should be straw to pale yellow. And you consider sweat and heat, and humidity, as well as ensure you are getting enough added sodium and electrolytes then you will be FINE. Lesson learned from someone who should have known better, but at least I am feeling more myself today, and it has given me the experience and data to share with others so this does not happen to them.

Dr. Tiff Fuel. Sweat. Science. Dr. T logo