Summer temperatures are here in Texas now. Austin got its first 100-degree day (38C) this week, although thankfully, we’re way behind last year’s ridiculous 90 days of 100 degrees or more.
So I’ve been making sure I have plenty of water while out on my rides. But the advent of the really hot temperatures reminds me that water alone isn’t enough. If I needed a stark reminder of that fact, all I had to do was take note of this news item:
SAN ANTONIO, June 12 (UPI) – A 30-year-old man who fell ill during an endurance boat race in Texas has died, authorities said.
Brad Ellis, who had become ill Sunday during the Texas Water Safari race on the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, was the first participant to die in the event’s 50-year history, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Ellis died of hyponatremia, or low sodium, said Allen Spelce, president of the Texas Water Safari.
“It goes against logic,” Spelce said. “You think, ‘Drink water, drink water,’ but you’re expelling all of that sodium, through sweat and using the bathroom, and not getting the replacements.”
I plead guilty. I get by just fine with two bottles of water for rides of 30 miles or less. Part of the reason I bonked last weekend is that I was just drinking water and not replenishing my electrolytes on a ride about an hour longer than I’ve been doing lately. It’s time to start carrying some kind of electrolyte replacement again.
I’ve never been picky about what I use. Often, in the middle of a ride, I’ll stop at a convenience store and pick up a bottle of G2 — the low-sugar Gatorade. I have used Nuun in the past, and like it, although I know people who don’t care for the fizzy tablets you add to your water.
Most sports drinks have a variety of electrolytes — sodium, potassium, chloride and more — it appears that sodium is the one to be most concerned about. The Mayo Clinic’s website says sodium is important to the body, because it “helps maintain normal blood pressure, supports the work of your nerves and muscles, and regulates your body’s fluid balance.” If the sodium level drops too much, extra water enters your cells and swells them. It can even cause you brain cells to swell, and since the brain’s ability to enlarge is restricted by the skull, swollen brain cells could trigger more dangerous symptoms.
In lieu of a sports drink, you could munch on something salty. I’ve always liked a Payday candy bar. The peanuts that surround the nougat center of a Payday contain plenty of salt. A small bag of pretzels would work just as well.
The main thing to be aware of, though, is that water isn’t enough. The Mayo Clinic says you should only drink as much fluid as you lose through sweat during exercise. That would be about 34 ounces — or one liter — of water an hour. That’s about two water bottles. Uh oh — I usually drink only one bottle per hour. So hyponatremia wouldn’t seem to be a particular worry for me. I need to boost my fluid intake, and now that it’s really hot outside, make sure I replenish my sodium, too.
Just use the common sense guidelines you’ve been following since starting to cycle, and you’ll be fine.