America’s Serious Fear of Dehydration

In keeping with the theme of the prior post of running in fear, I’ll write about our fear of dehydration, or no, we don’t need to drink eight glasses of water every day.

After a group run, Ben and I were with Heinrich waiting for a train to take us back home. Heinrich, a relatively new member of our running club who moved to NYC from Germany. Heinrich is affectionately nicknamed Heinrich in this blog because Ben keeps mispronouncing his name. While waiting for our train, Heinrich looked at my Simple Hydration bottle and asked about it. Then he remarked in earnest, “Americans have a serious fear of dehydration.”

Howling with laughter, Ben and I crowed, “Quote of the day! Quote of the day!”

Heinrich then explained that Americans are obsessed with hydration and that in Germany, runners didn’t really think about hydrating all that much. He continued that he didn’t drink all that much on long runs and even in marathons.

One of the things that I like about having friends from different places is that they have different perspectives that illuminate aspects of your own life and culture. Until Heinrich mentioned it, I hadn’t thought much about our obsession with hydration.

It’s a common truism that we should drink 8 glasses of water every day. There are apps developed to help you drink 8 glasses of water because we’re told we’re not drinking enough water. In reality, we don’t need to drink that much water. The source of this myth is believed to be a recommendation from the 1945 Food and Nutrition Board. They did say we need to have 2.5 liters of water, but the part that everyone missed was that most of this come to us from the food we eat. 

We don’t need to guzzle eight glasses of water each day.

In fact, drinking too much water can be detrimental. You can suffer from water intoxication, or hyponatremia, if you drink too much water. Excess water dilutes the sodium levels in our body and its symptoms include nausea, fatigue, headaches, muscle spasms, and vomiting. Acute hyponatremia can lead to death. Although death from acute hyponatremia is rare, marathoners are more likely to die from overdrinking and from dehydration.

So, America, drink up – but only if you’re thirsty.

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10 thoughts on “America’s Serious Fear of Dehydration

  1. I’ve actually thought about this a lot actually. Because here in Arizona the hydrating thing is pounded on us daily, especially if you’re an athlete. I get it, but I always thought that we really didn’t need to drink *that* much water….

  2. Seriously can this myth just die, along with the one about how you need to drink sports drink if you’re running for longer than an hour or how you MUST fuel on a long run or how your max heart rate is 220 minus your age. Like where do people get this stuff (besides the internet, which….internet).

    (Also, if you want to really geek out about this stuff, “Waterlogged” by Tim Noakes is a great sciency read!)

    • The 8 glasses of water myth has been around for a long time. The first time I heard of it was in high school and that was before the internetz. It also drives me crazy when people say that coffee is really dehydrating so for every cup of coffee, they drink two glasses of water.

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll go find it.

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