Sports drink company funds research

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute is funding a kinesiology research project by providing $19,000 – but the research will not involve Gatorade. the kinesiology department chair said.Joel Mitchell, chair of the kinesiology department, said the research attempts to study the effects of exercise and fluid on sodium levels in the human body.

Gatorade, which contains sodium, would be an additional variable and, therefore, water is being used, Mitchell said.

“The reason sodium is of interest is because there are some cases where sodium levels can drop to potentially dangerous levels,” he said. “It’s a condition called hyponatremia.”

Hyponatremia literally means “low sodium in the blood” and some people are more susceptible to it, Mitchell said.

Sodium is a key element in nerve and muscle electrical impulse activity, Mitchell said. When nerves conduct electrical impulses to send messages throughout the body and a muscle is stimulated to contract, sodium is heavily involved in it, he said. Hence, the department chair said, when sodium levels are abnormal, neuromuscular function is impaired.

Mitchell said one of the most common causes of hyponatremia is excessive intake of fluid and if people drink too much water too quickly, it can drive their sodium levels down.

He said under normal circumstances, when dehydrated, a person’s sodium level goes up since sweat is diluted. However, if the person is to rehydrate and replace all of the fluid with water, the sodium level will go down again.

When the sodium level drops, a person may experience nausea, loss of mental acuity and may exude a dull look on his or her face. In extreme cases, a person can have seizures, fall into a coma and even die, Mitchell said.

“We are looking at how sodium levels respond to the volume and timing of fluid consumption,” he said.

The research comprises four different experimental conditions, each 90 minutes in length, where the subjects’ fluid intake will be manipulated, Mitchell said. Pretests which involve taking blood samples and monitoring the subjects for three hours of recovery will take about five hours, he said.

Mitchell, Melody Phillips, assistant professor of kinesiology, and six students – five are in master’s programs and one is an undergraduate student – conducted the research. All of the students involved in the research are kinesiology majors.

Kimberly Hubing, a kinesiology major, is one of the students involved in the research. She will be using the results of the research for her master’s thesis.

Hubing said these experiments will test 10 subjects four times. The subjects will go through fairly moderate intensity cycling in a heated chamber of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, she said.

Hubing said the subjects’ diets will be manipulated two days before each experiment and they will be given water at varying intervals during the experiment.

Mitchell said the subjects are cyclists and triathletes trained in high-endurance exercises because an average person might not have the stamina to undergo the exercises in high heat.

Another part of the research, Mitchell said, attempts to find the connection between glycogen and fluid.

“Glycogen is a storage form of glucose, primarily in the muscles,” he said. “By manipulating glycogen level, by manipulating fluid intake, we can get a better sense of how these variables respond to that manipulation.”

Ultimately, it explains the physiology behind hyponatremia, Mitchell said.

Hubing said this kind of research is important because of the media’s focus on dehydration. Because the symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to dehydration, people might think they are dehydrated and drink too much fluid, which can be fatal, Hubing said.

Laura Quigg, a senior kinesiology major, is the only undergraduate student involved in the project. Within two years, she said she has been involved in about five projects.

Despite not receiving class credits for the research, she said she was interested in being a part of it because she wanted to connect with graduate students and get as much exposure as she could.

Quigg said this research is important because knowing the hydration status of the human body is crucial. Reading the course book and listening to the words of a professor are not enough, she said. She said she believes research helps students understand the subject better.

Gatorade has funded TCU’s project in the past, Mitchell said.

“The good thing about the company is they are also interested in supporting research that helps us understand fluids in general, not just Gatorade,” he said.