A lot of people may not be familiar with the term hyponatremia, but the recent death of a Georgia high school football player sends a clear message for athletes to beware of low sodium levels. While many athletes are advised over and over to protect themselves from dehydration, many may not realize that there is danger in over hydration as well. Hyponatremia or water intoxication, while rare, can be of serious concern for athletes.
Zyrees Oliver, a talented athlete and scholar died on Monday, Aug. 11 after spending several days on life support. Oliver had consumed over four gallons of liquid during and shortly after football practice on Tuesday, Aug. 5.The athlete, who was experiencing a problem with leg cramps, drank Gatorade and water in an attempt to stave off the pain. He was rushed to the hospital after he collapsed later that evening when he returned home.
Hyponatremia is caused when too much water is consumed. The blood is then diluted and sodium levels drop too low. Salt or sodium in the blood helps regulate the amount of fluid in and around the cells. When sodium levels become diluted by drinking too much water, for example, cells begin to swell. When this swelling occurs in the brain, the consequences can range from mild to severe. The athlete may become dizzy and feel weak. The patient may become confused and disoriented and experience headache and nausea. The condition can cause seizure and ultimately, an athlete can go into a coma and die.
The message for student athletes is to beware of attempting to prevent dehydration and inadvertently creating another problem, sodium levels that are too low. Knowing the appropriate amount to drink based on the amount of sodium lost during exercise is important. The average male body contains about 11 tablespoons of salt. Some of that salt is lost during exercise but the amount lost can vary between athletes. The actual amount is dependent on several factors.
Some people’s sweat contains more salt than that of others, who do not lose as much fluid because they sweat less. Another factor to consider is how much exercise is done in hot weather. People tend to sweat more during summer activities than they do during cold weather activities.
In the same way, the amount of sodium necessary to replenish the body can vary by individual. Most people need about 500 mg of sodium per day and the recommended maximum is 2,400. Consuming enough per day is usually not a problem since most foods provide enough sodium without even adding salt. The athlete, however, needs more salt to replenish that which is lost during sports. Most of this can be obtained from food as well but there is a way to ensure that athletes maintain the appropriate balance of sodium in the blood.
Nancy Clark, Sports Nutritionist, advises athletes to be in tune with their own bodies and determine how much sweat they lose based on their weight before and after working out. The athlete should weigh themselves naked before and after the strenuous activity and target replenishing fluids to coincide with the amount of fluid lost. For each pound lost during the activity, the athlete should drink approximately 16 ounces of fluid. In this way, they can replenish the sodium without risk of over diluting. If their weight stays the same or increases, the athlete could be at risk for dehydration, and should adjust fluids accordingly.
Following the tragic loss of a young football player in Douglas County Georgia, athletes, parents, coaches and students unsure about how much to drink may opt to consult a healthcare provider. Dehydration can be a serious medical concern but hyponatremia or water intoxication from consuming too much fluid is a concern as well. Athletes everywhere are advised to beware of the potential for sodium levels to go too low.
By Constance Spruill