Science of Survival is just one of a couple of Outside Magazine’s podcasts but it’s easily my favorite. This episode talks about hyponatremia, which is a condition that develops as a result of you over-hydration. Basically you’ve drank so much that the levels of sodium in your blood are diluted to the point that your body can no longer regulate the amount of water in and around your cells. This causes water levels in your body to rise, resulting in swelling of the cells and a whole host of symptoms that can be as mild as a headache or as severe as muscle spasms or seizures.
Rowers are susceptible to this during training (here’s a study from 2015 that found that 70% of rowers experienced hyponatremia at least once during a four week, high-volume training camp; you can read the full dissertation here) but coxswains are most susceptible to it on weigh-in and/or race day … which, when you consider the symptoms of even mild hyponatremia, is why I adamantly discourage coxswains from downing a ton of water before they weigh in. I’ve seen a couple mild cases over the years and heard about two or three severe cases from other coaches and guys, seriously, it’s not worth it.
The guy they’re talking to in this episode sounds kind of insufferable (you’ll see why as you listen) but he’s a good example/cautionary tale of how quickly the body can shut down in situations like this. They also talk about how the only correct way to properly hydrate yourself is to weigh your ins and outs. That process is detailed pretty well between 25:30 and 26:10 if you want to skip ahead but I really recommend listening to the whole podcast. It’s about 30 minutes long so it’s easy to get through if you’re on the bike, rolling out, or going for a run.
This is definitely something that you should do your own research on, regardless of whether you’re rowing or coxing, not just for the sake of effective training but also so you’re aware of the signs and symptoms in case you or a teammate starts to experience the effects of over-hydration. I spent the better part of my junior year of college studying the “science” of hydration and working on my own research in relation to athletes and hydration so if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or shoot me an email.