Drink Responsibly (Hyponatremia in Endurance Sports)

POSTED BY Katarina Burton | Apr 24, 2017 |

If you watched the London Marathon coverage yesterday or in fact the news in the UK today, you are well familiar with the images of the young man losing control of his movements and near collapsing, only to be helped across the finishing line by a good Samaritan. While neither the coverage, nor the news made a mention of the cause of his trouble, the images sure reminded me of a video I saw in my graduate Sports Nutrition Class at NYU of endurance athletes succumbing to hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia means that the body’s sodium level become diluted.  What I expect happened yesterday, is that it was a warmish day (for the UK anyway) the runner may have lost a lot of electrolytes in his sweat, and neglected to replace them properly, either through eating a salt containing snack, or electrolyte replacing energy drinks.  He likely drank water only, resulting in water intoxication or over-hydration.  Our bodies get very finicky when it comes to electrolytes, get slightly out of normal range and you are looking at a problem.

In mild cases, hyponatremia can cause nausea headaches, muscle spasms and confusion, but in severe cases it can cause seizures, brain swelling, coma and even death.

Nutrition and hydration are vital component of endurance training, get it wrong and all your hard work will be undermined.

I recall my sports nutrition guest lecturer and endurance athlete, Dr. Metzl, swearing by noshing on salty pretzels; he even joked about calling them “Metzl’s pretzels”. While I cannot stomach solids while running, there is a real current trend for real food rather than energy gels.

Solution: during your training sessions, train your stomach too.  On long runs, experiment with different rehydration solutions / foods.  Experiment and have fun with it!  If like me you find you cannot stomach solids or gels, find things you can tolerate.  I for example like to alternate water and sports drinks and the occasional orange juice.  Find what works for you – don’t spoil your chance for a PB.

PS: …much of this is of course a speculation, I did not interview the runner to determine if his hydration was the problem, but if anybody speaks to him please ask him for me, I am dying to know – I like being right.
However, the problem with hyponatremia and endurance sports is real so drink responsibly!

PPS: If you are training for an event and aren’t sure about the best nutrition / hydration related course to take, make an appointment with me.  There’s nothing worse for your performance than eating wrong for your sport.

You can see it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39690250

Another example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKhkvSRQZYo