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A Brief History of Running and Hydration

By Dave Spandorfer

7/14/14 9:29 AM

Janji is dedicated to providing clean water in countries around the world, making water a constantly talked about topic throughout the workday. In addition to our company's mission, water is also important at Janji because we are all avid runners. Hydration is a key element of Janji’s history; Founders Mike and Dave ran the 10k on an incredibly hot day at the 2010 NCAA Division III Track Championships. As the day wore on, they realized just how quintessential their access to water was. They had plenty of water to hydrate before the race, water stops every 200 meters during the race, and a hose showering down on them as they ran. But millions of people around the world lack even the most basic access to clean water – and Janji was born. Proper hydration becomes especially important in the summer months – often raising the question - how much water should I drink? The answer to this question has varied greatly over time.

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Pre-1970s

Contrary to popular theories and beliefs, distance runners predating 1970 were encouraged to drink as little as possible. Early studies of elite distance athletes showed the more successful athletes were the ones losing the most fluids of anyone in the race. These data concluded that a runner should not replenish the fluid lost during a race. To achieve even better results, it was suggested to have no fluid intake at all. In Tim Noakes book, Waterlogged, he talks about running a marathon in 1969 that had only water stop, at mile 20. As running became more popular, scientists conducted further research and came to some different conclusions...

1970s-1980s

Health risks of dehydration became more apparent in research after 1970, leading scientists to recommend that distance athletes drink during exercise. Frequent drinking was encouraged and promoted as the dangers of dehydration became even more evident as people suffered through injuries and even succumbed to death during races. Sports drink companies, such as Gatorade, were founded during this time period and began running advertisements in which professional athletes endorsed their product and talked about how hydration and sports drinks would lead to increased performance.

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1990s

The idea of “frequent drinking” in prior decades was exaggerated to the furthest extreme during the 1990s. In 1996, the American College of Sports Medicine published its beliefs on hydration during exercise, with the conclusion that you should only, “Drink as much as you can tolerate”. People began drinking excess quantities of water and sports drinks in preparation for, and during, their races. Gatorade dominated the sports world and it became a given that athletes drank large quantities of sports drinks prior to competition. Dissimilar to people suffering from dehydration in earlier decades, people began experiencing hyponatremia (over hydration). Hyponatremia is extremely dangerous and ultimately leads to comparable injuries and deaths to the effects of dehydration.

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Today

Recognizing the dangers of dehydration and hyponatremia, scientists have taken a more measured and individual approach to hydration. The common phrase of advice is “Drink to thirst”. Steve Magness, exercise physiologist and Head Cross Country Coach at University of Houston writes on his blog “The Science of Running”: “We should simply drink to thirst. It’s ok to be slightly dehydrated at the end of a marathon. The key is listening to your body and figuring out where that sweet spot of consuming enough fluids versus forcing fluids down is.” Gatorade continues to run influential ads about the importance of hydration and necessity of sports drinks. However, the best voice to listen to is your own: to maximize performance and reduce the risk of both over and under hydration, you should drink when you’re thirsty!

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