Spring is here and the hot weather activities can leave you dehydrated if you aren’t careful. Here are some tips for how to use sodium for hydration and optimal performance. From writer Jess Walter.

Drinking water without adequate sodium intake will only temporarily treat symptoms of dehydration. This is because your kidneys regulate your body’s hydration based on a critical balance of the minerals sodium and potassium (courtesy of berkley.edu)

Effects of Dehydration

Failing to drink enough water or losing too much through various means, can cause you to become dehydrated. Adequate hydration is needed to sustain life. Therefore, dehydration can take a toll on bodily functions. The following symptoms are linked to dehydration (courtesy of the Mayo Clinic Staff):

  • Weakened muscles
  • Increased thirst or dry mouth
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Decreased sweating and decreased urine output

However, too much water relative to the amount of sodium in your body is equally problematic. When we rehydrate, we often neglect to also increase our sodium intake. As a result, we are susceptible to the counterproductive condition of dehydration: hyponatremia. Clinical hyponatremia is symptomatic in the following ways (courtesy of Medscape):

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Cramps and muscle spasms
  • Irritability and restlessness

As you can see, many symptoms you may think are signs of dehydration are actually too much relative water in your blood. But why is sodium so important, and how is it regulated?

How Sodium Works in the Body

Electrolytes are minerals that carry a charge which helps facilitate muscle contractions and nerve cell transmissions. Specifically, the electrolytes potassium and sodium are involved. When the positively charged ions switch places across cell membranes, we experience muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Sodium, therefore, is a mineral which is essential for the proper function of every cell in our bodies. Problems can occur when there is both a shortage and an excess of sodium.

Sodium’s Role in Hydration

There is a common saying that “water follows sodium.” Essentially, this is true. Therefore, if you have too much sodium, you will also start to retain water. Conversely, a loss in sodium will result in losing in water and becoming dehydrated. Since sodium chemically attracts water, it can ensure proper hydration at both the cellular level and in the larger systemic sense.

For healthy people, the body can buffer excess levels of sodium, but it can do little to replace depleted sodium levels such as the hypernatremia that results from overtraining without adequate electrolyte replacement.

How to Replace Sodium

There is an overabundance of sodium in processed foods. When you switch to a healthier lifestyle with whole foods and exercise, you may feel the effects of sodium depletion. This problem is further compounded when you attempt to rehydrate with just water, as you are further depleting your sodium stores. So, how do we replace our sodium?

Start by looking at the dietary guidelines for sodium intake. According to the USDA sodium intake for a healthy adult should not exceed 2,300 mg. For adults aged 50 and over that should be cut back to a max sodium intake of 1,500 mg. There are separate guidelines for African-Americans at risk for kidney disease, persons with hypertension, diabetics, and those diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

After a workout, both water and sodium must be replaced to re-establish balance. The best advice is to pay attention to your body. If you notice that you feel dizzy or are experiencing cramps, try drinking more water and consuming the necessary salt and other electrolytes until you begin to feel better.

If you are looking for a water bottle to keep you hydrated: