The effect of physiology and hydration beliefs on race behavior and postrace sodium in 161-km ultramarathon finishers

Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Sep;8(5):536-41. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.8.5.536. Epub 2013 Feb 14.


Purpose: To determine if beliefs about physiology and rehydration affect ultramarathon runners' hydration behaviors or if these beliefs increase the risk for exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH).

Methods: Participants of the 2011 161-km Western States Endurance Run completed a prerace questionnaire, prerace and postrace body-mass measurements, and postrace assessment of serum sodium ([Na⁺]).

Results: Of 310 finishers, 309 (99.7%) completed the prerace questionnaire and 207 (67%) underwent postrace blood studies. Twelve (5.8%) finishers had asymptomatic EAH ([Na⁺] range 131-134 mmol/L). The most common hydration plan (43.1%) was drinking according to schedule, and these runners did so to replace fluid lost when sweating (100%) and to avoid dehydration (81.2%). Prerace drinking plan was not associated with postrace [Na⁺] or the development of postrace hyponatremia. There also were no group differences between those with and those without EAH for any other variables including planned energy intake or knowledge of fluid balance. Runners not planning to drink to thirst trended toward more influence from advertisements (P = .056) and were significantly more influenced by scientific organizations (P = .043) than runners with other drinking plans. Finally, runners who believe that EAH is caused by excessive drinking adopted a lower-volume drinking plan (P = .005), while runners who believe that EAH is caused by sodium loss via sweating reported more common use of sodium supplementation during the race (P = .017).

Conclusions: Beliefs regarding the causes of EAH alter race behaviors including drinking plan and sodium supplementation but do not appear to affect the likelihood of developing EAH during a 161-km ultramarathon.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dehydration / blood*
  • Dehydration / complications
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Hyponatremia / blood
  • Hyponatremia / etiology*
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Running / physiology*
  • Sodium / blood
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Sodium