Thursday

Dehydration and Motorcycle Touring



Who goes on a vacation where you end up in bed with a migraine and barfing? Apparently, I do. On a recent cross-country trip to California, I was stricken with a classic case of dehydration. When a person is in bed with cold cloths decorating their face, they tend to think big thoughts. Like, why me? Or, is it true that if your ring finger is longer than your index finger you are more prone to get arthritis but have great sex lives? Why would God make people with arthritic joint pain able to have great sex? Would they even want to?
Well, you get the point. I was miserable. Even though I didn’t get an answer on the arthritic sex question, I did get some valuable insight into dehydration. Apparently, the effects of dehydration can accumulate over several days. If they are not addressed, heat injury, which is easily treated, leads to more serious heat exhaustion. Once our bodies lose their ability to re-hydrate themselves and maintain core body temperature, major organs like brain, heart and kidneys are drastically affected. As symptoms escalate heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke, which can result in permanent damage and even death.

A typical misconception about dehydration is that it only occurs in hot temperature and while you are exerting yourself physically. True, runners and cross-country bicyclists are among the high-risk athletes. However, heat injury can occur at 75° if humidity is 95%. It can also occur in colder temperatures at high altitudes. Additionally, dehydration can occur as a result of illnesses that cause vomiting or diarrhea. Some people with conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease may also be more prone to dehydration. Children and older adults are high-risk candidates. Knowing your body and how it reacts to stress are key tools to help you identify the signs of heat injuries.
Symptoms for heat injury may be slight at first, but they will escalate. The best advice is to re-hydrate with as much fluid as you lose. Since you lose body fluids by breathing, sweating and urinating, it's not always convenient to measure fluids. The most common signs of heat injury begin with dry eyes and dry mouth. Pay attention if your eyes begin to feel dry or swollen. Also, if your tongue starts to feel like it's bigger in your mouth than it was at the beginning of your ride. Does your saliva feel thicker? Do you have a slight headache? Are you irritable about things, like your wife giving you the wrong address for the GPS? Do you have less patience with your spouse because you fail to realize that anyone can make a mistake? Not that RD and I have ever had a fight while on our BMW motorcycle. Nope, not us. It was dehydration. I'm sure of it.
Which brings me to another good point. Dehydration can go on for days. Poor diet, drinking too much caffeinated drinks, like soda and coffee, and too much alcohol can fuel dehydration. Most athletes begin to hydrate at least a week before their events. But be careful of your drink selection. High-energy sports drinks are designed for high-level athletes whose bodies are conditioned to break down minerals quickly. For the rest of us, Gatorade, Poweraid and water work better without shocking our systems and adding to the fatigue.
Some people believe swallowing salt tablets is another good solution. I've used them myself to ward off muscle cramps. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they cause me to vomit. It depends on how much dehydration has already occurred. Another reason to pay close attention to your body signs when stressed. While riding the motorcycle, I prefer eating salty foods, like peanuts or plain potato chips, with my water. In addition, I look for fresh fruit as much as possible. More and more gas stops are offering fresh watermelon, grapes and bananas. These are excellent sources of minerals and carbohydrates essential to re-hydrating a stressed system.
Of course, immediate consumption of water and short rests are your best bets for treating dehydration. When RD completed his off road riding class at RawHyde Adventures in California, one of the most surprising facts he learned was that cold water actually causes shock and nausea. They recommend room temperature. At any convenience store or gas station selling water, they will have a supply waiting to go in the cooler. Ask the clerk. We tried to carry our own, but haven't figured out the ergonomics yet. Carrying a water bag put more weight on the bike and on our hips. We're still working on that one.
One of the most surprising symptoms of dehydration was mental fatigue. On a motorcycle, one bad decision can be fatal. If your body is struggling to cool itself and keep performing, mental clarity suffers. When overheated the heart struggles to push blood to parts of the body, affecting the amount of oxygen carried by the blood. One result is indecision. Confusion. Possibly fainting.
It's also important to continue to re-hydrate after your ride. Fruits and vegetables with dinner help re-energize your body and repair any damage sustained during the day. A good night sleep and good food will have you better prepared to ride the next day by starting without a deficit. Remember, dehydration is cumulative, so poor choices at night make for poor decisions the next day.
Heat injury is the mildest form of dehydration and the easiest to treat. Preventative steps such as good diet, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol and knowing your environment are essential. Recognizing symptoms like fatigue, dry mouth and eyes, mood swings and cramping are unique to each individual. Re-hydrating between rides prevents starting a day already in trouble. Finally, maintaining hydration while riding by eating salty foods, drinking room temperature water and eating fresh fruits prevents decorating your face with cold washcloths while wondering about the lengths of your fingers.
Resources:
"Dehydration," www.webmd.com
"Dehydration Symptoms," mayoclinic.com
"Foods and Fluids for Fitness," Gatorade Sports Science Institute, www.gssiweb.com
"Heat Stroke, Dehydration and Prevention," Gorps Survival Guide, http//gorp.away.com
Holmes, Tawni, RD/LD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Human Environmental Services, University of Central Oklahoma

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