Are We Drinking Too Much?

The issue of plastic waste at South African road running events has reached boiling point, prompting the gathering of a powerful group of stakeholders at the Sports Science Institute on 1 September. Instigated by Cape trail and road running champ, Karoline Hanks, the facilitated session included members of the media, prominent race organisers, representatives of Western Province Athletics, environmental experts, sponsors, suppliers and management from various Cape running clubs. As the session progressed, various points were presented and discussed, including a fresh perspective on hydration, courtesy of Prof Tim Noakes.

Noakes, who needs no introduction to runners, past or present, tackled the issue of over-hydration at races, going as far as to say that a 10km race should not have water tables at all. His feeling, and one that is echoed by many modern-thinking sports scientists, is that commercial objectives have driven the over-supply of water (and other beverages) at races, and that runners routinely overhydrate, often impairing their performance as a result.

“Drink to thirst is key, drinking ahead of thirst will impair your performance”, said Noakes. He also emphasised that runners must be responsible for their own health in racing, that it should be shifted back to the athletes. 

This thinking flies in the face of much of what we are often taught, as runners have long been told that once we are thirsty, it is already too late and a semblance of dehydration has set in. But Noakes is not the only one banging this drum. A recent article in Runners World states that mild dehydration will not slow you down.

The article goes on to say that “One theory is that the disconnect between dehydration and thirst isn’t an evolutionary bug—it’s a feature. As you sweat out water, you also sweat out electrolytes like sodium, which keeps your blood concentration relatively constant. That disconnect, the theory goes, allowed our ancestors to keep hunting without constantly needing to stop for water.

This rethink has two practical consequences: You can trust your sense of thirst during a run, but you have to repay that fluid debt after you finish—otherwise, the next day, you’ll have nothing left to borrow.”

Of course, the other practical consequence of applying this science to our running is the obvious reduction in the need for water tables (current ASA rules insist on a table ever 3 to 6km in a road race!) which immediately reduces the plastic waste until an affordable alternative to hydration supply is found.

When an audience member quizzed Noakes about the possibility of a hydration pack slowing a runner down, Noakes was quick to humorously point out that packs are not carried on your feet. We, the trail community, agree! And we applaud the efforts being made to eradicate the plastic sachet.


Wildrunner Eco cups are sold as an alternative to sachets or disposable cups at our races