Quench Your Thirst Safely

Quench Your Thirst Safely



Athletes and coaches understand the importance of drinking fluids and staying hydrated while playing out in the heat. Some may experience symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, and vomiting which may point to dehydration. When they have these symptoms they reach for their water bottles and drink, drink, drink. But did you know that drinking too much can actually be just as harmful as not drinking enough?

Hyponatremia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when excess fluids cause low levels of sodium in the body. This condition is also called “Water Intoxication” because it can result from an excessive intake of water. When athletes suffer from “dehydration-like” symptoms they are given fluids orally or intravenously. If sodium levels are already low this extra intake of fluid will overload the cells, tissues, and organs within the body literally causing you to drown.

So, how do you know if you’re truly dehydrated or if your sodium levels are too low? To be quite honest, it is difficult to tell. You need to monitor your sweat loss during activity as well as your fluid intake and your diet. Take a look at your shirt and your skin after a workout. If there is a thin layer of white residue then you are a salty sweater and you need to replenish your electrolytes both during and after exercise. A good way to measure how much water you lose during a workout session is to weigh yourself just before and just after exercising. If at the second weigh-in you weigh less than when your workout started, you can safely consume fluids with electrolytes. If when you finish exercising you weigh more than when you started, you have most likely overhydrated and should take in some salt to rebalance the body.

Water is good to drink when you are thirsty, but when athletes sweat they lose a lot more than water and so they need to replenish what is lost. Usually the key is not that athletes are over- or under-hydrated, but that many are already under-replenished with sodium and potassium. Sodium and potassium are important electrolytes that keep cell activity alive, yet these nutrients are lost through sweating. It is very important for athletes to replenish their sodium levels after exercise, especially if they are heavy, salty sweaters.

Because the signs and symptoms of hyponatremia mimic those of dehydration it can be difficult to assess what is really wrong. Athletes can experience extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, and vomiting due to low sodium levels and high levels of fluid already in their bodies.

Prevention of hyponatremia and proper hydration begins with adequate preparation. Athletes should consume sports drinks with enough sodium and potassium to balance the amounts that are lost through sweating. After a vigorous workout in which a lot of sweat is lost, season foods with salt (as long as you are not being treated for high blood pressure) and consume foods high in potassium such as bananas. It is also important to train your body for exercising in the heat. Allow at least 10 to 14 days to get used to the heat with a gradual progression in intensity and duration. Start out by performing higher-intensity activities during the cooler morning hours and lighter intensity activities during the afternoon when it is hotter.

Remember, it is not always easy to know if your sodium levels are getting too low. If you are aware of your symptoms coupled with your diet, your daily fluid intake, and your sweat loss you’ll have a better understanding of whether you are simply dehydrated or if your sodium levels need an extra boost!