If you're training for your sport in hot weather, take precautions or you could be putting your life in danger!
In the heat, you should always stop competing during practice or a game if you feel sick, have chills, headache, severe muscle burning or aching, dizziness or blurred vision.
If your symptoms don't subside in a few minutes, you could be headed for a heat stroke that can kill you. During athletic competition or training lasting 2-4 hours, fatigue, dehydration, muscle weakness/cramps and decreased coordination is caused by low levels of fluids, salt or glycogen (fuel from carbohydrate calories).
It is important to keep your fluids, salt and glycogen levels adequate during competition because it is often too late once the symptoms show up.
When you sweat, you lose water and salt. If the sodium levels in your blood get too low (hyponatremia), you will no longer be able to move water across your body's membranes and you will become dehydrated - even if you are drinking enough water.
Some of the signs and symptoms of hyponatremia include bloating, upset stomach, nausea, headaches, cramps, disorientation, slurred speech and confusion. Untreated, hyponatremia and dehydration can lead to collapse, convulsions, and sometimes even death.
Everyone is different, but generally you should try to ingest 1 gram of sodium per hour during a long event, practice or game. You should also increase your sodium intake in the days leading up to the race or event. Ingest about 10-25 grams of salt per day before a race like a marathon.
Endurance sports require your heart to efficiently pump oxygen in your bloodstream from your lungs into your muscles. A study from the University of Connecticut shows that with dehydration, your heart beats with far less force, so it pumps far less blood with each beat. Therefore, an inadequate amount of oxygen reaches your muscles unless you condition your body.
Again, don't depend on thirst to tell you when you lack fluids! When you are going to exercise for more than a couple hours, especially in hot weather, drink small amounts of water frequently and eat salted snacks or consume a sports drink.
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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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