July 25, 1997


Staff Writer

You've just had a big game, or you've spent an hour or more exercising. Now you need to replace the electrolytes you've lost.


Those are elements in the body that nerve pulses - the body's message system - need to make the organs work.

The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium and chlorine, said Dr. Mathew McIntosh, director of the wellness and cardiac rehabilitation center at Hagerstown Junior College.


When sodium bonds with chlorine, it forms salt, and that leaves the body when you sweat.

Sports drinks, which have glucose, fructose and sodium ingredients, will replace electrolytes, but in most cases, drinking water will suffice, said Dr. M. Douglas Becker, a Hagerstown pediatrician.

"The preferred energy is glucose. It gives energy a little quicker," Becker said. "If a healthy individual exercises in the heat and doesn't drink anything - the basic loss is water. If that individual exercises vigorously for one hour, the water loss can be quite significant. You can replenish losses quickly by drinking water. Sports drinks don't hurt, but basically you need water."

McIntosh recommends a solution of six to eight ounces of orange juice that is diluted by half of what the can directs.

"Concentrated orange juice is 12 to 14 percent sucrose. The perfect sucrose solution is 7 percent. Drink it slowly over 15 minutes," he said.

McIntosh said he usually doesn't recommend sports drinks because of their high concentration of metals.

"Keep fluids up. Drink water, Gatorade or whatever. Just drink, drink, drink!" recommends Shawn Rodrigues, YMCA Aquatic Director.

Signs of dehydration

The first sign of dehydration, a concern with electrolyte loss, is cramping.

"Thirst is not an indicator of dehydration, although it is important to keep fluids level up," McIntosh said.

The areas that cramp quickly are the quadriceps - the front thigh muscles - and the lower back muscles, McIntosh said.

Other signs of dehydration are dry mouth, dizziness and lightheadedness, Becker said. Sweating may stop and the person may appear faint, he said.

Only 2 percent of body weight can be lost during activity, McIntosh said. Without enough water, the body takes extra water from the blood plasma.

"The electrons are resting in water. If there is no water, there is no activity - like water in old car batteries. If you didn't add the water, there is no electricity to get the car to start," McIntosh said.

Jeanne Rhodes, owner and director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute on Cleveland Avenue in Hagerstown, said a good way to get electrolytes is through your diet.

"Sodium occurs naturally in food. Potassium can be found in bananas and potato skin," she said.

Extra caution for parents

Although dehydration is a serious problem in adults, it can cause severe damage to infants.

Becker said that while water is 60 percent of an adult's body chemistry, it is 80 percent of a newborn's chemistry.

Problems with dehydration occur when a child is not able to retain oral rehydration fluids, like Pedialyte, Becker said. When a child is vomiting and can't accept these fluids, then introducing fluids intravenously is the only answer, he said.

Becker's advice is to bring a bottle of water with you, or give your child a bottle, when exercising.

"The harder you exercise, the more you need to drink," Becker said.

The Herald-Mail Articles