WHY DOES DEHYDRATION HAPPEN?
Dehydration happens for lots of reasons. You’re often dehydrated in the morning when you wake up simply from sleeping for hours (hopefully lots of them!) without fluids. The processes in your body are working hard while you sleep, and even just breathing results in water loss from your body. But the most common causes of dehydration are simply not drinking enough regularly and not drinking enough during or after activity to replace what’s been lost. Most of the time people don’t recognize the signs of dehydration and only drink when they feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and are probably being affected in more ways than you realize.
WHY DOES EVERYONE TELL ME TO "CHECK YOUR PEE!" AND WHAT IF IT IS DARK-COLORED?
The first thing everyone says is, “Check the pee!” As a rule, a large amount of light colored, diluted urine probably means you are hydrated; dark colored, concentrated urine probably means you are dehydrated. While this test can be a very good general indicator, there is often more to the puzzle. Just because your urine is clear and you get rid of a lot of it doesn’t necessarily mean you are optimally hydrated. Clear urine is water that is NOT being absorbed by your body.
The formulation of electrolytes helps increase the amount of water that’s absorbed into the blood stream. And that means more of the water you drink is actually used to hydrate you instead of being eliminated because the electrolyte balance wasn’t right.
HOW DO I FIGURE OUT MY PERSONAL HYDRATION NEEDS?
No two people are the same, so figuring out your sweat rate is the most accurate way to figure out your personal hydration needs. And weighing yourself before and after exercise is the most effective way to gauge your fluid needs. Any weight loss corresponds with fluid loss, so try to drink enough to replenish that weight. (Weight gain could mean you are drinking more than you need.)
Studies have found that a loss of 2% or more of one's body weight due to sweating is linked to a drop in blood volume. When this occurs, the heart works harder to move blood through the bloodstream. This can also cause muscle cramps, dizziness and fatigue and even heat exhaustion or heatstroke. For all the athletes out there, it can mean a major drop in performance, and for the rest of us, it makes for a really uncomfortable day.
WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT FLUID LOSS?
Although sweat rate is the most basic and accurate way to keep tabs on your hydration needs, there are other factors to consider. Training or participating in activities at altitude increases your fluid losses and therefore increases your fluid needs. Excessive heat increases fluid loss through sweating. During moderate exercise in a cool climate an average person can lose up to 1 cup or more per hour. The same individual can lose up to four times that amount per hour in a hot and humid climate. And cold weather exercise can impair your ability to recognize fluid depletion and increase the rate of fluid-loss through respiration. So no matter what kind of weather you’re in, optimal hydration is your key to health and high-performance.
HYPONATREMIA - WHAT IS IT?
We've all heard that drinking more water is good for your health, but an increasing number of hyponatremia cases shows us that drinking water isn't always enough—especially when it’s being consumed in large quantities over short periods of time.
Hyponatremia is the scientific term for low concentration of sodium in the blood, and it can occur from over-hydrating with plain water. Drinking excess amounts of water, especially during extended exercise or activity, can deplete essential electrolytes in the body, causing disorientation, illness and in rare cases death. For athletes, effects are generally seen during longer and hotter races when they’re sweating a lot and the levels of water intake are likely to be high.
HOW DOES HYPONATREMIA OCCUR?
When salt leaves the body through sweat and lots of plain water gets taken in, the bloodstream becomes diluted and sodium and potassium levels drop. But sodium is essential for optimal cell function. It helps with the electrical signals that occur in our bodies, and it helps regulate cellular osmotic pressure through osmosis. (Remember that school experiment with the bag-like thing and the salty water?) When hyponatremia occurs, cells throughout the body take on more water than normal and expand. Rings and watches will get tight, you’ll look all puffy and, the bad bit, your brain swells. Since your brain is in a rather inflexible skull, it gets a bit squished and that’s where the disorientation—and in worse case scenarios, fatalities—come from.
WHEN DOES IT HAPPEN?
There are lots of folks who have suffered from some degree of hyponatremia. Often the common link is that they were preparing for a tough event in a harsh environment, like a ride in a desert or a long run in a canyon. But you can get hyponatremia anywhere when you're sweating profusely and you’re consuming a large quantity of water without electrolytes. A good electrolyte drink will go a long way in helping to prevent hyponatremia. This has been well documented by medical journals. Nancy Auer, MD, VP of Medical Affairs at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, says, "Maybe we need to make sure there is more sodium in the beverages we're encouraging athletes to drink." It’s time to rethink the conventional wisdom behind the water stations at athletic events and make sure we're properly hydrating athletes to prevent hyponatremia.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO AVOID HYPONATREMIA?
Our advice? Be sensible. You need to be aware of the potential problems associated with drinking a lot of water while being active for extended lengths of time. It’s important to replenish your body’s electrolytes at the same time.
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