Advice to drink “ahead of thirst” has been declared obsolete and dangerous. This is a contentious topic and one in which conventional wisdom has evolved over time. But according to an updated consensus statement on exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), the best strategy to prevent potentially serious reductions in blood sodium level is drinking to thirst.
These recommendations were published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. Many cyclists are misguided when it comes to hydration. Some don’t consume enough liquid, which can result in dehydration, while others drink too much, risking diluting their sodium levels — which can be life-threateningly dangerous. Symptoms of hyponatremia include sickness, headaches, confusion and dizziness.
“Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a method that should limit drinking to excess and developing hyponatremia (low blood sodium), while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration,” according to recommendations developed at this year’s third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference.
These recommendations advise a more balanced approach to hydration. In the past, riders have been advised to drink before feeling thirsty to avoid irreversible dehydration. This make some cyclists to become over-cautious or obsessive with regard to drinking fluids, which increased their risk of hyponatremia.
Fortunately, the guidelines are now much more straightforward: just obey your thirst.