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Commentary by Paul A. Levine
| Thursday, Jun 5, 2014

paullevine2It is a typical summer day in Santa Clarita. The sun is shining, the thermometer is hovering in the low 90s and you decide you are going to take a hike on one of the many trails available to us.

Even though you start early, before the sun has risen high in the sky, the day quickly heats up and you are sweating profusely. It has been estimated that in severe heat and with marked physical exertion, a person can lose as much as 1½ quarts of water in an hour. But you are prepared. You remembered to bring your hat; you lathered up with suntan lotion with a SPF of at least 30, if not higher; and you are wearing sturdy shoes – for although many of the trails are relatively flat, they are still uneven, and there are some dips and rises.

Most importantly, you brought water.

Is this sufficient?

The answer is no. Water by itself might be essential, but it is not sufficient.

When you sweat, your body loses more than just water. It also loses electrolytes – a fancy medical term for various chemicals or salts that are normally found in the body and are essential for bodily function. Some of these electrolytes include sodium and chloride, the two major ingredients in salt. There is also potassium and magnesium, as well as a few others.

Figure 1If you replace the water but not the electrolytes that are lost in the sweat, the water you drink will dilute the remaining electrolytes in your body, contributing to weakness, fatigue and muscle cramps, both at the time and later in the day. It can also contribute to fainting or nearly fainting despite your reliably drinking water.

Gatorade was originally developed by the University of Florida (the “Gators”) for their athletic teams to replace both the water and electrolytes that are lost during practice as well as the actual athletic competition. Since then, it has been commercialized with added flavoring and colors to appeal to the mass market.

There are several similar products on the market today. Personally, I dislike Gatorade straight, so I would dilute it 50-50 with water and bring that along.

Figure 2But if you are going on a protracted trip and will not have access to stores, I have found something I like even better. These are electrolyte tablets that come 12 to a tube and can also be broken in half to make it easier to add to a water bottle. The one I am familiar with is manufactured by Camelbak and can be purchased at Sports Chalet (although I have not researched other similar products or stores).

Figure 3

This California sister knows it needs various salts as well as water. Since nectar does not have any salt, it stops for a quick drink on a sweaty hiker.

Animals such as deer go to salt licks. Even the lowly butterfly, with a brain the size of a pinhead, if not smaller, will look for salts since these are not found in nectar in any sufficient concentration.

So, when you are planning an outing to Placerita Canyon or any other location in the world, in addition to taking sufficient water, remember to take your electrolytes either as a premixed drink or in the form of tablets that can be added to your water.

The combination of water and electrolytes is essential and sufficient. While the electrolyte tablets are unpalatable by themselves, water is not – but water alone is not enough.

 

 

 

Paul A. Levine is a docent-naturalist at Placerita Canyon Nature Center and an avid butterflier.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Annette Uthe says:

    Thanks, Paul. We’re planning a trip to Utah with some short hikes but I’ll look into those tabs.

  2. Nadiya says:

    Thanks to Paul Livine for this important information.
    Special thanks to SCV TV for this quality of information.

  3. Down the trail comes a guy with glasses and a bird on his head Oh my I have been out in the sun too long

  4. Down the trail comes a guy with glasses and a bird on his head Oh my I have been out in the sun too long

  5. Great advice, Paul!!! All hikers should ALWAYS carry electrolytes. There are many brands of electrolyte drinks and tabs. My favorite tablets are “Nunn”.

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