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We all know that we lose water and electrolytes (dissolved “salts”) when we exercise, although we may just think of the loss as “sweat”
or “perspiration” and that the more strenuous the activity, the more we’ll lose. Many also know that this loss can cause muscle cramps
and, the next day, muscle aches and soreness. Most active people also notice that, as they get dehydrated, even before they feel
thirsty they just don’t do as well. For many years exercise physiologists have insisted that “all you need is water; you don’t lose enough
electrolytes to affect your performance” and “water is absorbed faster than anything else” even though both statements are contrary to
the experiences of most athletes. And, should you push yourself too far, they’re not going to give you “plain water” in that IV.
When cells do their work, changes in electrolyte concentrations inside and outside the cell take place; often the changes that are caus-
ing the cellular activity, or just changes that are a result of the activity. For example, in a resting muscle cell, there is a higher proportion
of potassium ions inside the cell than outside, and the reverse is true for sodium ions. When the muscle contracts, potassium escapes
from the cell and sodium diffuses in. For the cell to relax again, the excess sodium must be pum ped out and potassium p umped into the
cell, all of which require energy from glucose in the cell, while more energy is also used to “jack” the cell into the stretched or “relaxed”
condition. The cell must have enough water and the proper ions in the immediate vicinity and in the cell for these transfers to take
place. But, circ ulation and the l oss of water (and the dissolved electrolytes) in the perspiration necessary to keep us from overheating also
causes water and electrolytes to be lost from the active cells. Soon these losses begin to affect the cells’ ability to recover and you
begin to falter, muscles begin to tighten up and, eventually, to cramp ... and they’ll tear if you try to continue your efforts. The primary
cause of pulled muscles is dehydration; that tight muscle yesterday will often tear with a sudden effort today. For example, tennis players
getting dehydrated one day will feel a little tight the next if they don’t replace the water and electrolytes and, in an abrupt lunge, the
muscle will tear. Athletes in sports that involve periods of inactivity and sudden intense efforts, like baseball players abruptly going after
a ball or lunging into a run to the next base, are especially prone to muscle pulls; circulation to the muscles is diminished while they
are inactive and, if they are getting dehydrated, the abrupt activity will tear muscle, tendon or ligament bers.
Muscle cells are not the only cells that suffer from dehydration and electrolyte loss; all cells are affected and most especially the
cerebral cortex, even though you may not be aware of it; the very effects that help to keep you from noticing this. As a matter of fact,
the very rst noticeable symptom of dehydration is diminished mental acuity; you don’t think as clearly, reaction times are slowed, and
judgment and quick decisions are affected long before you even feel thirsty. For most, the rst effect noticeable is the inability to recall
a name or word that you know or you may stumble over the word, often coming up with another term that is not quite what you wanted.
For example, back to the tennis player, they will be a little off in reactions, placing shots or decisions that can cost a match, even before
their muscles begin to feel tight. The next symptom is irritability, often at about the same time that the muscles begin to function less
smoothly. For bicyclists, the stroke rhythm gets off; in tennis, softball or baseball, timing, reactions and judgment are also off. Can you
see how your performance, whatever your sport, can be seriously affected even before you begin to feel any muscle tightness?
Sports drinks were supposed to be designed to replace these vital electrolytes and the water to prevent and relieve the muscular ef-
fects. However, they turn out to be designed to sell to the general public who would like to think that they are getting something that
will help them play “like the pros.” Therefore, they have to have so much avor and sugar to taste good that absorption into the system
is not only delayed, but water is actually pulled from the body into the stomach or intestines. Energy drinks contain even more sugars
and, usually, loads of complex carbohydrates that, while emptying from the stomach fairly quickly, must be digested in the intestines,
pulling even more w ater from the syste m; denitely not what a dehydrated athlete needs! If you are already dehydrated, almost to the
point of a muscle cramping, a few swallows of one of these concentrated drinks will cause water to be pulled from muscles all over
the body resulting in “whole body” or “chain-reaction” muscle cramps. This is what happened to swimmer Amy Van Dyken after her
rst race of the Atlanta Olympics. Many sports drinks also contain far too much sodium (some have ve times as much sodium as
potassium) which causes you to lose your own potassium reserves, keeping up with the sodium losses. Sodium also pulls water from
circulation into the tissues, effectively removing the water from use in circulation, cooling the body and muscle function.
By: Bill Gookin, No. 9 in a series of occasional reports on wellness and dehydration
* For 40 years athletes have known us as Gookinaid, but we are not just a drink for athletes.
Now the world knows us as Vitalyte™, a drink for everyone. Same fast, effective new name!
**This article is the opinion, advice and testimonial of the author and your results may vary. If you have a medical
condition involving dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, you should consult a physician before following this advice.
***Documentation on le.