Monday, March 18, 2013

Electrolyte Imbalance Causing Woozy Feeling

I just got back from Manila a day ago. I was there for two nights. Flew in Monday evening and left Wednesday afternoon. Pretty standard travelling arrangement for business meeting and limited due to numbers of flights and carrier moving in and out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. If you think this post is about me running in Manila - you got it half correct. Indeed the best way to see a country (foreign) is to run the street like how i did in Ottawa. However, I was advised against running in Manila. So, i did the next best thing - visiting the hotel treadmill and clocking a fast 5km run.
Too congested and unsafe to run
I am very cautious with the food that I was eating when I was there. It is a big challenge and often something most traveller failed to take note or pay attention to. I made very conscious effort to ensure I eat as clean and as simple as possible. It worked very well and I must say I am very proud of myself to manage that.
Banana and sweet potato. Two humble food many don't pay too much attention to. These are Class A carbs.
I also made extra effort to ensure I stay hydrated. It was so well that I think I over did it. I begin to see the side effect on the night I arrived. I then remembered what I wrote about Hypoatremia - a condition where the body electrolytes were so diluted you begin to have symptoms similar to dehydration. Ad I thought I was experienced enough to prevent this. I was easily chugging down about 2liters of water every hour. I woke up with my lips dry. Having a headache as if I had a hungover. I thought it was dehydration and for the rest of the day while walking on site saw me lugging a 1.5liters water bottle and gulping it down in an hour, or less. I wasn't feeling better. I did not feel better. I ran it off (see above), hoping it will shake the "tiredness" away. Instead, i felt crappier after the run later at night.
Then it dawned to me - I wasn't dehydrated. I was overhydrating and dangerously close to hypoatremia. The signs were all there and I failed to see it even when I myself wrote about it. I back off immediately (from drinking more water) and take sips just to wet the mouth. At that moment, i regretted not bringing along the Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes and made mental note that I will take it when I go home the next day.
Damage Control
I decided to take it easy and not run (in the hotel gym) before checking out. I take more milk (for calcium, one of the essential electrolytes) and took an extra banana (potassium). I ate a bit more watermelon and papaya in my last ditch effort to raise the electrolytes level in my body. I resisted the "need" to ingest table salt to get sodium as have sufficient of that due to daily diet - it was the other essentials, the other missing minerals that was overly diluted from over-drinking that has thrown the whole body off-balance.
It was a struggle to fight the "perceived" thirst the next 24hours. And just as I thought I am all good to go by running 12km on March 14, 2013.
I felt cramps coming in at KM7. It is not the usual muscle fatigue I would experience in the last 12months of training routine. It is the type that you know - "Damn, cramps coming". The pull at the calves is the direct effect of the onset electrolytes depletion/dilution. It could be worse if i had not been consciously telling myself what is happening.
Yes, some of you might say that I should take more "salt" in the food to level it back. Here is the truth about electrolytes: You need more than just sodium. If you missed the whole paragraph above about ensuring a balanced electrolyte profile, here it is again. You need:

  • Sodium - main cation (positive ion) but caution needed to amount taken. More sodium causes water retention and increased electrolyte loss in body as body works overtime to expel the extra.
  • Magnesium - works with calcium. When muscle contracts, Calcium leaves with Magnesium entering the system to relax the muscle. Diet low in Magnesium often causes Bruxism - teeth grinding at night!
  • Potassium - Chief cation in all cells and balanced off the sodium. Diet low in potassium will cause all the symptom of under and over hydration, including failure to "fire signal" in muscle
  • Calcium - essential as it helps with fatty acid conversion to energy. Low in calcium will cause the body to draw from bones, causing bone mass loss other than raising your blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Chloride - comes with sodium usually and help to maintain the osmotic balance of the cell
  • Manganese - traces mineral to maintain enzyme activities of converting fatty acid and protein to energy.
  • Vit B6 - helps with metabolism of fuel and maintaining the potassium-sodium balance

Now that you see the different minerals that is needed in a proper electrolytes, do you see why taking "just salt" or doing "salt loading" could be potentially fatal?
That night, i took more drastic action - i took one Hammer Endurolytes per hour for two hours. Had a serving of Heed in between. Took Recoverite to force recovery. I know what some of you would think - I am not a believer of these supplement having to promote full healthy living with real food rather than rely of "products". I had moments too - about doubt and what I professed myself.
But here I am - desperate to get my electrolytes back to normal and to recover appropriately so i can continue to train and push my body.
And the products (sponsored) were right there.
I been using this for two years. Now, i received one unit as sponsored product
Sports Drink with electrolyte profile
Recovery Food with Whey Protein and BCAA
No, this post is NOT to promote Hammer Nutrition products. Maybe subtlety. But you all know how i work. I am trying these all so you too can make the correct choice; what more in these moment of frustration with the condition (that it was my fault for over-hydrating) that was self-inflicted. If these work as it claimed to be - I will start to believe in Hammer Nutrition.
Moving On
On Friday, almost 3-days after the dilution and depletion of electrolytes in the body. I felt better. There is still the tugging in the calves - but it was more because of muscle soreness than muscle threatening to contract in cramps. I no longer has the constant thirst feeling and I resume consuming water as normal again - a bottle (1 liter) about every two hours. Perhaps, i can start believing in Hammer products.
What triggers me to write about this article again is that the recent Brooks 21km run saw one man collapsed and never to be revived (RIP sir) and one more collapsing at the finishing line (and saved). During the course of the run, i noticed how runners rushed to each water station and gulp down cups and cups of water. We are so used to associating exercise with fluid consumption that we often overdid it. Like in the original article that I wrote on over-hydration, the danger of over-drinking and killing yourself is very high. Cardiac arrest can happen, and it has happened. Arm yourself with knowledge and be very cautious about hydration. Too little is dangerous, too much is equally fatal. I will share more in the coming weeks on proper hydration and fueling - now that I have nutrition experts from Hammer Nutrition to guide and share. Until then, stay safe while drinking (water). 


  1. Love u stupe.. your entry always come when i need this kind of info.. :P

    anyway.. fyi.. i am using your HIIT schedule (modified base on my fitness level) for almost 2 weeks already.. beribu2 tq.. i am now in the right track to improve my fitness level.. serius.. the impact.. tremendously..

    1. Awesome lah Kuchalana, yourself being an endurance ultra athlete will only see more improvement to the speed of your run if you (like me) start to train right and with a proper plan. :)

      Don't thank me yet, I am as usual, just sharing.

      Just like this experience, i almost got myself into trouble and i thought i knew better. But luckily i was not in denial and took immediate action. :)

      Keep running buddy!

  2. Very interesting post ... I didn't think over-hydration can be a problem. However, it is true that in the tropics I drink a lot more water than I used to ... not 500 mL an hour like you though ... :-)

    Thank you for the great information. You have inspired me to do some more research on this topic.

    1. Please do some research and share here too. :) So far, the danger of over-drinking is real and I can't believe I ended up experiencing it myself.