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?
Bottom line: Hydrate regularly and wisely – but don’t overdrink!
Michael Bergeron, Ph.D., is the executive director of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute and former member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.