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Proper Hydration for Surviving the Heat and Preventing Heat Stroke

I'll never forget volunteering at the Marine Corps Marathon's Finish Line Emergency Tent. The experience was horrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The dedicated medical specialists who came from around the world to speak at the marathon's scientific conference the day before were amazing (I was fortunate to be one of the speakers); their expertise and dedication saved many lives at the marathon.

But what is seared in my brain forever are the exhausted runners stumbling into the emergency tent on the verge of death.

Forced into the ice water baths, several doctors surrounding each ice bath tub, struggling to get IVs into the runners to save their lives: The runners were experiencing HEAT STROKE! They were frighteningly disoriented: delicate young women and huge, strong men were screaming, cursing, defecating (the room reeked); they couldn't remember their own names, let alone birth dates. After some time in the painful icy water, once their body temperatures were lowered, they were whisked off in waiting ambulances to nearby hospitals. Everyone survived that day!

The Most Essential Nutrient: Water

Nutrients don’t only come in the form of food; water is the most important and often most forgotten nutrient. You can last a long time without food, but only days without water. Your lean body mass contains about 70 to 75% water, with fat containing much less, or about 10 – 40% water. Because of increased muscle mass, men’s and athletes’ bodies contain more water than women, overweight, or older persons, because of their proportionately lower muscle and higher fat content.

Water is:

  • The solvent for important biochemical reactions, supplying nutrients and removing waste,
  • Essential for maintaining blood circulation throughout your body,
  • The maintainer of body temperature: As you exercise, your metabolism and your internal body temperature increase. Water carries the heat away from your internal organs, where it can do serious damage (leading to heat stroke and even death) through your bloodstream to your skin, causing you to sweat. As you sweat and the sweat evaporates, this allows you to cool off and maintain a healthy body temperature, optimal functioning, and health.

Daily water intake must be balanced with losses to maintain total body water. Losing body water can adversely affect your functioning and health. Once you are thirsty, you’ve probably lost about 1% of your body water and are dehydrated. With a 2% water loss, you could experience serious fatigue and cardiovascular impairments. It’s important to note that individual fluid needs differ depending on your sweat rate, the temperature, clothing, humidity, and other factors.

For life-saving tips on water, sports drinks, and home-made concoctions to survive the hea ...