No One Tells a Dog When to Drink-Paleo Hydration

by CavemanGreg on August 18, 2011

drinking waterIf you are a modern day athlete, especially an endurance athlete, there is no doubt that the principles of “hydration” have been drilled into your head. And then drilled some more, and probably even a little more.  Even if you aren’t an athlete, you are probably still well aware of the “experts” recommendations to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate . Eight glasses of water a day. This many mL per 30 minutes of exercise per body weight, use x factor if its a  temperature and b humidity, and by the way if you maybe had a little too much to drink the night before factor in z. And none of this accounts for altitude or who knows what other bogus factor the hydration industry is using to get you to buy their product. If your pee is dark, you aren’t hydrated. If you are thirsty, it’s too late, you’re already dehydrated. By these standards it seems impossible to ever truly be hydrated. And this is just speaking of water. This doesn’t even take into concern this  huge overblown concern about electrolytes.

Ever since reading The Primal Blueprint, I’ve completely changed my thoughts on hydration. The Caveman rule is simple, obey your thirst. In other words, just drink when you are thirsty. There is no need to shoot for some magic number of ounces, no need to weigh yourself, no need to force yourself to make a certain amount of trips to the office water dispenser to fill up your Nalgene, or no need to follow any other silly man made rule about how much water to drink. On the most primitive of levels, your body will let you know when it needs water and that is the only time you need to drink it. If you just really enjoy drinking water, I don’t think it will hurt to drink a little more than you need, but it will cause you to urinate more often than is necessary. It is possible to drink too much water (hyper-hydration), but this is rare and difficult to do as the body is pretty good about regulating itself and you have to drink insane amounts of water to do this. (or have insufficient salt intake, which is dang near impossible too).

I was inspired to write this post after listening to a podcast on Ben Greenfield fitness titled “The Death of Gatorade…” I’m subscribed to Ben’s site because he offers some pretty good advice. It’s not quite 100% Paleo, but he does advocate lower carb eating habits, whole foods, and is a successful athlete as well. This podcast caught my attention since I have given up Gatorade and most other sports drinks and have been formulating my own ideas about Paleo hydration, basically that sports drinks are a fad and we shouldn’t worry about drinking water so dang much. Click on the link above to listen to the podcast. Fast forward to 34:22 to begin the interview with  Dr. Tim Noakes , a South African doctor of exercise at Capetown University, known and respected for challenging the paradigm of sports physiology. This interview will forever change the way you look at hydration and sports drinks, especially if you are an elite athlete. If you don’t have a good 40 minutes to listen to it, here are some key points of the message:

  • Most people don’t know what true dehydration and its symptoms are. Imagine you are stranded in Death Valley California or some other stupid hot vast dry desert. You are trekking mindlessly through barren wasteland. It’s 110 degrees, 5% humidity. You happen to have a one liter bottled water with you. By the second morning, if you made it through the cold night, you finish the last drop of water. Let’s just say you have a map and know that freshwater or civilization is 40 miles away. You have to hike 30 miles today, and 10 in the morning. By midday you are starting to become dehydrated. You aren’t urinating anymore and if you are it’s becoming dark. You’re feeling tired and irritable. By nightfall you are truly dehydrated and things are not looking great. By this point you are very thirsty and may have a headache. Your skin is dry, your tongue is maybe swollen, and you feel dizzy. You get an early start on day 3, but the desert is a formidable place and it warms up quickly. Maybe you have 2 miles left to salvation. At this point, you are super dehydrated probably experiencing delirium. Your heart rate has picked up because your blood pressure has dropped due to a decrease in blood plasma. Your body temperature is at a dangerous level because you stopped sweating sometime the day before. If you don’t find water soon, your body will shut down and you will die. I made this scenario up, but Noakes argues that this is true dehydration, not finishing a run on a hot day, feeling thirsty, and saying to your friend “gosh I’m so dehydrated” Dont’ get me wrong, water needs to be replenished after hard workouts in warm or dry conditions, but you aren’t really dehydrated, you’re just really thirsty.
  • The “science of hydration” was fabricated by Gatorade and companies like it. The term “dehydration” suddenly became a medical disease and if you didn’t drink enough during exercise you would develop this condition.
  • For a product to contain water, sugar, and salt, stuff that you can find in the kitchen and make yourself, something really big had to happen to make $4 billion a year
  • Gatorade got a group of scientist to put together a model to produce what they wanted to in order for the means to justify the end
  • “What the sports drink industry did very effectively was say, you can’t believe your subconscious controls, you have to do it consciously, and that is absolutely non-sense. If that were true no mammal would be surviving, because they would all be dead because they didn’t have a conscious brain to tell them to drink.”
  • The hydration industry developed the salt myth and managed to confuse an entire population. The myth states that if you are sweating out a lot of salt, you will become deficient in it and need to replenish it. The truth is that you are sweating out EXCESS salt. As long as you are putting out salt in your sweat, you’ve got too much. That’s the only reason we sweat it out! It serves no purpose to cool us!  It is nearly impossible to become salt deficient with our current food system. Even indigenous people who live freely have a hard time becoming salt deficient because their body’s instinct drives them towards it.
  • The industry had to convince people that despite the fact that there were thousands of gallons of water available, along race courses worldwide, you would still somehow be dehydrated at the end of a race and their product was the best way to rehydrate.
  • “People have always blamed collapsing at the end of race on dehydration. If you were truly dehydrated you would have collapsed before the end of the race. The only thing that causes collapsing is the fact that you’re coming to a stop (it’s a neuromuscular thing)
  • There is no evidence to support the argument that drinking water will reduce the chance of heat stroke. It has nothing to do with fluid balance. (*I should point out that this pertains to mild “dehydration”, such as at the end of a hard run.  In the case of severe dehydration, your body temperature rises since you aren’t sweating anymore and it seems to me this would increase your chance of heatstroke, but you probably have bigger problems to worry about if you reach this stage)
  • Experts recommend drinking ahead of thirst ( “if you’re thirsty you’re already dehydated” ring a bell?) If you are drinking ahead of thirst, you’re only carrying extra weight with you. In fact, those that usually lose the most weight in a marathon are the top finishers and vice versa. Haile Gebreslassie, the world record marathon holder, has been documented to lose up to 10% weight during marathons and you don’t see him collapsing after the finish line (you do see hime holding a big check though)
  • The reality is that humans evolved to execute strenuous activity for short to moderate lengths of time (30min – 3 or 4 hours) without water, partaking in persistence hunting and similar day to day tasks that might require moderate activity for extended periods going without water.

So to conclude, Caveman drank when they were thirsty, just like dogs and all the other animals of the earth do, not when some fabricated notion by some fabricated industry told them to. Trust your instinct, and obey your thirst.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike McElveen August 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Payson “marvels” at my refusal to carry any water with me on rides of 2 hours or less. I never race with water, nor take it at the feed zone.
The number of racers who have died at the New York Marathon of dehydration is zero. The number who have died from hyponatrememia (drinking too much water) is at least 5, four of them in the span of only 2 years. This was at the peak of the “Hydrate or die” fad.
Except at the extremes of life (babies and the elderly) or people on certain medications, you will not get dehydrated if you drink when you’re thirsty.
Payson sent me your site because he knew I’d be saying “I told you so.”


Steve Seater August 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I simply can’t drink all the water recommended by the so-called authorities. I’d spend most of the day standing in front of the toilett and getting up numerous times at night. I drink when I feel thirsty and it has always worked just fine for me. I am a Russian kettlebell instructor, personal trainer, and a spinning instructor. I also do some road cycling. In other words, I am an active individual and have never followed the hydration guidelines recommended by the authorities.

Steve Seater


dr. Jeff December 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but the oft-quoted 6 daily glasses of water was widely quted in the medical literature until an article in JAMA (about 5 years ago, maybe more) showed that the reference source was just somebody’s opinion.


CavemanGreg December 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Jeff, I did not know this, but it doesn’t surprise me at all! Thanks for sharing.


Terry Schumann January 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Great to hear that the myths about drinking are finally being revealed. However when are they going to tackle the other myth about bran fibre in the diet. These bran flakes were a byproduct of manufacture and scooped up and marketed as a must have in the breakfast diet. All continentals have never subscribed to this theory.


Linde Law February 15, 2012 at 5:19 am

I also ran marathons and ultras for years, and horrified all my colleagues by hardly drinking any water along the way. I am so glad to hear your opinion, as even in my everyday lifestyle, I cannot subscribe to drinking the six glasses a day theory and am tired of hearing how bad I am for not doing it.


diana November 26, 2012 at 12:18 am

dittos here. People marvel I don’t drink “enough” water.


Lemuel March 17, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Hi, just a little bit confused about this water consumption thing. As how I understood your article, you are trying to say that drinking 8 glasses of water will not do you any good and is just a scheme brought about by some companies to earn more money, but you haven’t at the same time tell any reason or at least concluded that drinking too much water is bad for weight-loss . Well, my question really is this, is drinking to much water bad? Meaning that for a person like me who enjoys drinking water, like even more than 8 glasses of it everyday, should now start on trimming down my water intake if I want to be lose weight, is that right?


CavemanGreg March 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

If you like drinking water, then drink up! Every body is different. My body does not require much water at all, I think it is good from getting it from food. It is unlikely that you can drink too much water, but there is a condition called hyper hydration and it basically throws off the balance of electrolytes in your blood/body and can kill you, but like I said, you have to drink A LOT of water to reach that state. Drinking a lot of water will not affect weight loss, that is determined 80% by diet and 20% other factors. I don’t recommend any physical amount of water per day, I just say “drink when you are thirsty” hope that helps.


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