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The 10 Biggest Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make

#1: Excess Hydration

Sat, Jun  10, 2006 - By Steve Born

There are obviously more than ten mistakes that athletes can make, but those listed in this article represent the most common performance-ruining ones athletes have made over the years (I know I sure have made them!). Some of these may seem basic and obvious, but you’d be amazed how many athletes keep making the same ones over and over, and then wonder why their performance isn’t as good as it could be.

Most of these “Bottom Ten” violate the most fundamental law of fueling physiology:  we must consume each component of fueling in cooperation with the marvelous machine that is the human body. In our efforts to help our body, we often overcompensate, and don’t realize until too late that we’ve done more harm than good. Your body is your primary reservoir of all nutrients; ignore that concept and you will absolutely suffer the consequences.

Carefully read through the description of each of these mistakes—at least some of them will sound painfully familiar!  But we just don’t tell you what you’re doing wrong; each of the ten sections also tells you the appropriate corrective action to take. Follow this advice and you’ll quickly see significant improvement in your overall performance.  


Excess Hydration

Optimal nutritional support for endurance athletics means consuming the right amount of the right nutrients at the right time. You can neither overload nor undersupply your body without compromising athletic performance and incurring detrimental results. The principle of avoiding both too much and too little especially applies to hydration, where serious consequences occur from either mistake. If you don’t drink enough you’ll suffer from unpleasant and performance-ruining dehydration. Drink too much however, and you’ll not only end up with impaired athletic performance, you may even be flirting with potentially life-threatening water intoxication.

One of the most respected researchers on hydration, Dr. Tim Noakes, studied the effects of thousands of endurance athletes and noted that the front-runners typically tend to dehydrate, while over-hydration occurs most often among middle to back-of-the-pack athletes. Both conditions lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), but through different processes. Excess water consumption causes what is known as “dilutional hyponatremia,” or an overly diluted level of sodium and electrolytes in the blood. This is as bad as under-hydrating in regards to increased potential for muscular cramping but has the added disadvantages of stomach discomfort, bloating, and extra urine output. And, as mentioned earlier, in some unfortunate circumstances, excess hydration can leads to severe physiological circumstances, including death.

Unfortunately, endurance athletes too often adopt the “if a little is good, a lot is better” approach. This can lead to significant problems when you’re trying to meet your hydration requirements. All it takes in one poor performance or DNF due to cramping and you start thinking, “Hmm, maybe I didn’t drink enough.” Next thing you know, you’re drinking so much water and fluids that your thirst is quenched but your belly is sloshing and you’re still cramping. Remember, you can neither undersupply nor oversupply your body with fluids, so consume appropriate amounts.

How much should one drink? One expert, Dr. Ian Rogers, suggest that between 500-750 milliliters/hr (about 17-25 fluid ounces/hr) will fulfill most athletes’ hydration requirements under most conditions. I believe all athletes would benefit from what Dr. Rogers says: “Like most things in life, balance is the key and the balance is likely to be at a fluid intake not much above 500 milliliters (about 17 ounces) per hour in most situations, unless predicted losses are very substantial.” [Fluid and Electrolyte Balance and Endurance Exercise: What can we learn from recent research? by Ian Rogers @: http://www.wms.org/education/Hyponatremia.htm]

Recommendation:  We at E-CAPS/Hammer Nutrition have found that most athletes do very well under most conditions with a fluid intake of 20-25 ounces per hour. Sometimes you may not need that much fluid (15-16 ounces per hour may be quite acceptable) sometimes you might need somewhat more, perhaps up to 28 ounces. Our position, however, is that the risk of dilutional hyponatremia increases substantially when an athlete repeatedly consumes more than 30 fluid ounces per hour. If more fluid intake is found to be necessary (under very hot conditions, for example) proceed cautiously and remember to increase electrolyte intake as well to match your increased fluid intake. You can easily accomplish this by consuming a few additional Endurolytes capsules.

Next time: Mistake #2: Simple Sugar Consumption


About the Author, Steve Born:

Steve is Senior Technical Advisor for  E-CAPS/Hammer Nutrition. Steve's athletic career spans 15 years. Among his accomplishments he is a three-time Race Across America finisher, the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 Champion and 1999 runner-up, the only cyclist in history to complete a Double Furnace Creek 508, and is the holder of two ultra marathon cycling records. Steve's most recent achievement was induction to the Ultra Marathon Cycling Hall of Fame. He is the fifth person to receive this recognition. In addition to cycling, Steve is also an avid Nordic skier, having competed in several marathon races in the past decade.

Steve's decade-plus of involvement in the sports nutrition industry, as well as nearly 15 years of independent research in nutritional fueling and supplementation, has given him unmatched familiarity with the myriad product choices available to athletes.