How to Avoid Hyponatremia

By Michael F. Bergeon, Ph.D., FACSM on August 28, 2014 nfhs news

Ample hydration before and during practice and play is key for safety and optimal athletic performance, especially in the heat. However, the recent death of a high school football player reportedly from drinking far too much fluid, in an apparent attempt to resolve his muscle cramping, is a grim reminder that over-hydration, while rare,  should never be encouraged or dismissed as harmless.

Ready access to water and sports drinks during practice and competition is always recommended for any athletic or other strenuous physical activity. But drinking too much in a short period of time – in this tragic case, reportedly two gallons of water and two more gallons of a sports drink – can be far more than the body can handle. As a result, too much water in the blood can lead to brain swelling followed by seizure, coma and even death. This potentially deadly condition is called hyponatremia. Early symptoms typically include headache and nausea; although an athlete could be feeling this way for other reasons.

How can you avoid hyponatremia?

  • All student-athletes have the responsibility to be well-hydrated (normal body weight and light-colored urine) and well-nourished prior to training or competing. Regular fluid intake during practice and games/matches should be a priority, especially in the heat. Weighing oneself before and after practice with minimal clothing provides a good indication of how well you managed offsetting your sweat loss. The goal is to drink regularly to thirst. If you begin well-hydrated, a small pre- to post-practice/competition weight loss is okay. A weight gain shows that too much fluid was consumed.
  • Those selected and notably fewer athletes who sweat excessively and/or have a history of muscle cramping may have to add some salt to their diets and sports drinks when training and competing in the heat. This helps the body to hold onto fluid and reduces the risk of muscle cramping caused by large sweat sodium losses.

Bottom line: Hydrate regularly and wisely – but don’t overdrink!