Athletes beware! Drinking too much water can kill you. Large amount of water overburdens kidneys, forcing them to work to fast to clear out extra water.

When talking about water consumption, the recommended daily dose is drinking 8 glasses of water. For people living in warmer climates, it can be as much as 10 glasses. And when exercising it is important to stay properly hydrated as you lose water through sweat. Dehydration is the enemy for athletes as it can lead to dry mouth, weakness, dizziness and feeling as if your heart is pounding (palpitations).

But according to new research, drinking too much water during exercise can lead to a condition known as exercise-associated-hyponatremia (EAH). This occurs when the body’s sodium levels drop due to an excess of water in the body.

When athletes drink too much water during exercise, the large amount of water overburdens the kidneys. The kidneys can’t work that fast to clear out the extra water and as a result the extra water in the body ends up diluting the sodium levels.

Sodium is necessary for a wide variety of biological functions such as keeping the nervous system functioning normally and regulating blood pressure. Hyponatremia when caused by drinking too much water is known as “water intoxication”.

According to the study, a set of guidelines has been reported to ensure that athletes don’t drink more water than is safe. The best thing to do is to drink water when you feel thirsty. And an even better option would be to drink something that could replenish the sodium levels as well as rehydrate.

Dr. Hew Butler, from Oakland University and lead author of the study said the main goal was to reeducate people on the dangers of drinking more water than required by the body.

“The safest individualized hydration strategy before, during and immediately following exercise is to drink palatable fluids when thirsty.”

According to the guidelines, instances of EAH can reportedly occur during military exercises, hiking, and football and endurance events such as canoe races, triathlons and marathons.

During such events, athletes are told to drink as much fluids as they can. But drinking water excessively does not help prevent the problems such as muscle cramps, heat stroke or fatigue that occur after the exercise. In fact dehydration does not cause heat stroke, rather it’s due to the body producing too much heat.

The guidelines were reviewed at the 3rd International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference held in Carlsbad, California. Last year, two high school football players died due to EAH that led to the consensus panel to reconvene.

Symptoms of EAH include vomiting, headache, seizures and swelling of the brain (edema). These symptoms usually develop when sodium levels are dangerously low and in severe cases, EAH can be fatal.

The majority of EAH deaths have been recorded in the United States.  Athletes are especially at risk during summer months as sports training camps and marathon training usually begins during these months. Coaches should know the difference between good hydration and bad hydration and should urge their players to drink when they feel thirsty. The guidelines were published in a report in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.