Maintaining healthy ion concentrations may seem like a relatively easy task; as long as an athlete eats a balanced diet he or she should not have to worry too much. Being born with Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus (NDI)* at 18 months, however, has always made this difficult for me. My mom would meticulously monitor what I ate—reducing sodium intake is one way to combat NDI—and how much water I drank throughout the day. As I grew older and gained more control over my own diet I challenged myself to stick to my diet as best as possible. I thought it was best to eat as little sodium and drink as much water as possible. That all changed when I started running cross country.
I began running indoor and outdoor track in middle school and attained moderate success, so by the end of my freshman year of high school I decided to make the switch from playing football in the fall to become a year-round runner. My summer training went well and I thought I was in a good place once pre-season came around. But after the very first practice, I sensed something was wrong. For the first two weeks of the season I barely made it through a practice without feeling light-headed, dizzy and unable to think clearly. I thought it was dehydration, so I became more disciplined with my water consumption. At the worst of it, I found myself drinking eight liters of water throughout the day before practice. Despite these efforts, my symptoms showed no signs of improving.
It wasn’t until I made a trip to my nephrologist that I was able to resolve the issue. It turned out that rather than suffering dehydration from consuming too much salt I was consuming too little, and this was prohibiting the sodium-potassium pumps on my neurons from functioning properly. For the first time in my life, I was told to increase my sodium intake and eat a more balanced diet. Similar to the way Americans tend to think of all carbs or all fats as being bad, I thought that all salt was bad. At that point in my life, I had not yet learned that when it comes to dieting, moderation is key.
*NDI is a rare hereditary condition that affects the nephron (kidney cells) and their response to anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). In a normal nephron, ADH will cause the cell to reabsorb water lost during the blood-filtering process. Water isn’t used as efficiently as possible by the nephrons and therefore it is easier for NDI patients to become dehydrated.