Last week, I discussed my love of water and how simply increasing your hydration can improve everything from your hair to your heart. I’m staying true to my H2O romance, however, even with water, you can have too much of a good thing. This over hydration is called Hyponatremia and is becoming increasingly more prevalent amongst endurance athletes, especially during the summer months.
In order for our bodies to function properly, we must have a certain level of sodium in our blood stream. If our sodium level drops too low, we are unable to transmit nerve impulses, we lose muscle function and the cells in our brain can begin to swell. During high intensity exercise we lose sodium through our sweat. If you rehydrate with too much water, you can dilute the sodium in your system and ultimately become hyponatremic.
Signs of hyponatremia are:
- Muscle cramps
- Slurred speech
At first signs of Hyponatremia, you should drink a sports drink containing sodium, like Gatorade, or have a salty snack. If your symptoms are extreme, you should consult a medical professional immediately. In the most extreme cases Hyponatremia can result in seizures, comas or even death.
Now this isn’t meant to make you fear water or get heavy handed with the salt shaker! Here are a few solutions to help keep you balanced (NOTE: If you have high blood pressure, please consult your doctor before increasing your sodium intake):
- Alternate between water and a sports drink containing sodium on your long, high-intensity workout days (e.g., longer than 60 minutes).
- Increase your salt intake a few days prior to a long distance event (e.g., marathon, triathlon).
- Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen (NSAIDS) as they may predispose you to Hyponatremia.
Most importantly, know your body! Are your clothes covered in salt after your long runs? Do you find that water goes right through you after working out? Have you determined your sweat rate so you know how much water you should be drinking? Training is not only meant to increase your strength and endurance, but also to help you recognize when your body is feeling great and when it is just a little off. If you stay in tune with your body’s signals, you can enjoy race season happy and healthy! You can also enjoy a few salty chips prior to your long training days because your nutritionist told you to!
If you have questions or concerns about Hyponatremia, email me at email@example.com.
Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly firstname.lastname@example.org.