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Question
Posted by: Disappointed | 2005/11/30

water ! A healthy habit

Dear Fitness Expert,

I was browsing through all the letters when I came across the question regarding water and was actually surprised at your response to the questions the person asked.
I am also a personal trainer and always encourage my clients to drink water - especially if they are training hard or walking far for exercise. If I was not knowledgeable about health and fitness I would've had a fright reading your response. There are so many people out there who want to get fit and healthy and who don't know what is good for them or not. Water is a good thing - encouraging someone to replenish something so valuable as water is a step in the right direction. My clients have all seen improvements in their skin and overall feel better.
You have to be more specific when talking about drinking too much water - trainers always encourage clients to drink water instead of cold drinks or juice and I can assure you we are not trying to murder our clients.....if I didn't know any better I would've reduced my water intake to one glass a day if I had to read your response. Please tell me you do know the benefits about water and not just the one in a million story of the mother who killed her child with too much water!

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Our expert says:
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Hi Disappointed

Not at all, if you read my response, and I quote "there is no need to drink more than when you are thirsty". Also, I said that "as long as you can drink when you are thirsty, you will be fine". I have never said there is no need to drink water, only that you should not drink more than you need, judged by thirst. Nor did I suggest that personal trainers are trying to murder their clients. My point is that by encouraging people to drink water the way it is often done (that is, 8 glasses a day, drink before you are thirsty, make sure you don't become even slightly dehydrated etc.), we are heading for disaster. I make the point that a mother killed her child with too much water only to illustrate the dangers of drinking too much. This story is not one in a million, as you suggest, but I'll touch on that a little later on.


So I am not suggesting at all that people drink only one glass a day. I'm not sure where you get that advice from, it's not in my answer, I said to "drink as you feel", not one glass a day. In fact, it's this regimented, strict routine that I am trying to encourage trainers and atheltes to change. You can't make specific recommendations like this. THe ONLY advice that works, and the ONLY advice that is safe, is advice to drink when you are thirsty, and not more. If you drink more than this, you have far greater risks than if you underdrink. People will NEVER underdrink provided they have access to water when they NEED it. THe only time that dehydration ever occurs during exercise or activity is when people get lost or stranded without water for DAYS. Not hours, but days. Do you know that there has NEVER been a reported, proven case of death due to dehydration during exercise? I repeat, NEVER. Remember, we identify dehydration as a reduction in body weight due to fluid loss, and there are obviously different levels of dehydration, and not one person has ever died because of dehydration during exercise. Not out of millions and millions of people who have finished marathons all over the world, not out the 30 000 cyclists who do the Argus every year, not out of the 13 000 people who do the Comrades every year, and spend 10 or more hours in the relatively warm sun doing it.

But, as I suggested before, there are numerous cases of people have drunk too much water during exercise, and developing hyponatremia. Just this year at 2 Oceans, there were 2, and 5 the previous year. During the Argus, a woman was told she should drink about 700 to 800 ml per hour (which is actually quite a modest amount), and she did this, and subsequently developed hyponatremia. My point is that these are not 1 in a million cases. There have been numerous cases in the USA of people who have died because of initiation ceremonies gone wrong, where they have been forced to drink. So the mother case is not one in a million at all. It's just another sad case. And even if it were one in a million, I believe that is one too many. Check out the following site for more stories if you are interested:

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/02/04/BAGNSB576121.DTL

If it can be avoided, then it must, and I have to make the point that what has been done during execise with regards to drinking water is no better than 'forcing water on people', because as you say "if you did not know better you would have reduced your water intake to one glass a day". The problem is that the general public does not know better, and so when we tell them to drink their 8 glasses, or to make sure they don't lose any fluid, or don't become dehydrated, we are effectively 'forcing' them to drink because we are in the position to give advice that has absolute authority, and it's reckless. The personal trainer in the question posted previously had told his/her client to drink lots of water, and said she should have a glass by the bed, and bottle in the car etc. This is patently incorrect advice, it's not needed and while I'm not suggesting at all that trainers are trying to murder their clients (again, not sure where you get this from), it's advice that has very dangerous side effects, and no known benefits.

So what are the benefits of water? The body obviously needs water and that is why I have not once said you should not drink it. But I have said that you should not drink it more than you need it. Drinking too much is bad. Drinking the right amount is vital, and the only way you do this is by drinking when thirsty. Maybe it helps the skin, I don't know. But it doesn't improve exercise performance, it certainly doesn't help with weight loss, except to create a feeling of fullness and suppress the appetite, which is not a good thing anyway, and so the only thing left is to say that people should drink when they are thirsty.

I do feel that in the next year or two, it will be taught in personal training courses and it will become a known fact that drinking too much water is bad, and that newly trained personal trainers will be of the same school of thought as I am that drinking when you are thirsty is the only time you need to drink and not more.

Regards

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