A cold glass of water when running, or playing a game of basketball can seem like the perfect thing: however, drinking too much water when doing a physical activity can hurt you. Let's take a look at why an athlete may need to switch from plain tap water to a sports drink or electrolyte-infused water.
What's In Sweat?
Before we look at why drinking too much water can hurt you rather than help you during heavy sports activity, let's look at what happens when you exert yourself. The first thing that your body does, to cool you down, is perspiring.
What is sweat made of?
- Sweat consists of water, lactate, urea, and minerals.
Is everyone's sweat the same?
- No. Everyone's sweat is composed slightly differently.
Is my sweat the same every day?
- Depending on what your body chemistry currently has (minerals and salts), your acclimation to the area, and what your current needs are; your sweat will also change from day to day.
What minerals and salts are lost when I sweat?
- Sodium and potassium are the two biggest minerals lost in most sweat. Then you will find calcium and magnesium. There are also trace amounts of elements such as zinc, copper, and chromium.
Why Does It Matter?
You may be wondering why you just read the chemical and mineral makeup of sweat. Did you really need all that info? YES!
Losing essential minerals and salts ( you may know these as electrolytes) can lead to mineral deficiencies. Drinking too much water without consuming the electrolytes can lead to a dangerous condition known as Hyponatremia. Let's talk about Hyponatremia first.
Hyponatremia, water intoxication, or overhydration, are all different words what happens to your body when you drink too much water. This syndrome can lead to some serious consequences. If you aren't careful, this could happen to you when playing sports and drinking too much water.
This specific condition has become a problem in the marathon community. Many EMT staff, running trainers, and race support staff at the Boston Marathon and other big races have had to be on the lookout for this condition.
The fear of dehydration has led athletes to drink too much water.
I'm Not A Marathon Runner, So I Have Nothing To Worry About Right?
While hyponatremia is more of a problem in time-consuming activities like a marathon, triathlon or other endurance event. Other high-intensity sports may also run the risk of having electrolyte shortages in their body by drinking too much water when being active.
What are symptoms of electrolyte deficiencies in the body?
- Irregular heartbeat
- fast heart rate
- convulsions or seizures
- diarrhea or constipation
- abdominal cramping
- muscle weakness
- muscle cramping
Not all electrolyte imbalances are the same. If your body sweats more sodium than potassium and you have a sodium shortage; you may end up with slightly different symptoms.
Notice that these symptoms are very similar to the initial signs of dehydration. That is because one of the main factors in the dehydration symptoms is the imbalance of electrolytes in the body.
What Can You Do?
To prevent an electrolyte imbalance you want to consume a sports drink, fruit juice, or electrolyte powder if your activity lasts an hour or more. The sports drink should provide 14 g of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium and 100 mg of sodium per 8-0z. You should only need one 8-oz serving per hour of activity; water will do fine for your other drinks.
To avoid hyponatremia here are a few things you should consider doing:
- Drink only when thirsty
- Have a sports drink every other drink
- Drink water in moderation
- Drink only as much water as you lose
There you have it! Simple steps to save you from any trip to the hospital because you drank too much water.