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Dispelling Hydration and Heat Illnesses Myths

As usual, we're in the middle of a hot, humid summer in the Philadelphia region. If you train for marathons, compete in bike races or play outdoor sports, will you drink enough water to stay hydrated but not so much that you suffer the effects of exercise-induced hyponatremia (EAH) or "water intoxication"?

EAH can kill: It led to the deaths of two 17-year-old football players last August, one of them from New Jersey.

West Chester University professor of sports medicine Sandra Fowkes Godek, who directs the University's HEAT (Heat Illness Evaluation Avoidance and Treatment) Institute, laments that these deaths were preventable. Godek is the nation's leading expert on fluid and electrolyte replacement in football players.

She is also coauthor of new guidelines for proper hydration, recommending athletes only drink when they feel thirsty and stop drinking when their thirst is slaked. Published in the July 2015 issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, the statement came out of this year's Third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, which she organized.

Godek's 13+ years of research with Philadelphia's pro sports teams as well as college players have resulted in some of the only data that supports high sodium loss as a primary cause of EAH. She has demonstrated the benefits of replacing the significant sodium losses that football players experience during summer pre-season practices and also determined that these elite athletes saw no detrimental cardiovascular effects when they drank fluids with increased amounts of sodium while training.

She notes that although the sports world has been slow in changing its "forced hydration" philosophy, athletes can maintain their own fluid and electrolyte balances if they drink only when they're thirsty. The key will be in educating the public about EAH and bringing consistent messages to the sports world.

For more about Godek's research, check out the WCU Magazine, pages 10-11.