Brady Varty Motorcyclist and owner of Terra Nova Light bars originally wrote this article for the safety publication that he edits for helicopter pilots. He modified it a couple years ago for the MOA's BMW ON magazine.
Here's a link to the ORIGINAL
Click on issue 3/2002 in your favourite format, the article is called I Need a Drink
Here's the motorcycle version he adapted for the MOA.
I Need a Drink
The classic image of a dehydrated man—stumbling through the desert in torn clothing, kicking up dust with every scuff of his worn-out boots. He’s sweating bullets, trying to suck the last drop out of a dirty canteen, and gasping “Water! Water!” The sun is a huge fireball in the sky, and the heat is shimmering off the ground like it’s alive. While this version is great for movies and beer commercials, dehydration can take on a much less dramatic profile, one you probably see more often than you think.
The most obvious risk of dehydration would be associated with the heat of summer, which is when most of us ride. Dressed up in our leathers or Cordura™ riding gear, we have tangible proof of our bodies losing fluids in the form of perspiration. For the ‘T-shirt and shorts’ riders, the loss may not be as apparent, as the 60 MPH breeze evaporates the evidence. In this case, the depletion of fluid may go unnoticed, which makes it even more insidious.
We don’t usually associate cooler weather with dehydration. However, after a cold day of riding, those painful, chapped lips that make the chili burn going in, are telling you something. So is the stubborn fog on your face shield, and we’ll explore that in more detail a little further on.
Riding motorcycles sometimes exposes us to a greater than average rate of dehydration. In this article, we’ll discuss how and why our bodies use moisture, the mechanics of how dehydration occurs, what effect it has on our performance and health, and how we can prevent it.
A Long, Tall, Drink o’ Water…
[Note that litres (L) are used in this article a unit of liquid measure. A U.S. quart and a litre are almost identical—1 litre = 1.06 quarts.]
The human body is primarily composed of water, about 70%, in fact. To put this in perspective, the average 185 lb man will contain over 13 U.S. gallons, or 50 L of water in and around all the cells of his body, and in his bloodstream This water is used for virtually every function the human body performs—regulating its temperature, eliminating waste, digestion, transporting nutrients and disease fighting agents, and even has a role in neurological functions and the thought process. It is truly, what keeps us alive.
Water enters our bodies when we eat and drink, and exits in three primary ways— urination, perspiration, and transpiration (breathing)—but we can also lose fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, excessive mucus production, bleeding etc. Under normal circumstances, a body will lose between 2 and 2.5 L in a 24-hour period, or about 2-3% of the total body weight.
As mentioned above, the body uses water in virtually all of its metabolic processes. Urination is one way our bodies dispose of waste, and urine is a good indicator of our state of hydration. Normally, it should be relatively clear with a yellowish tint, whereas darker yellow, and often pungent smelling urine is a signal that you need more water. This will often be your first sign of dehydration, even before you get thirsty. Use of diuretic substances (those which increase the production and excretion of urine) like alcohol, caffeine and many carbonated soft drinks, will have a major impact on dehydrating the body. In these cases, the urine may not appear dark in colour, but fluid levels are being significantly depleted. Less frequent, but still very significant, are the excessive fluid losses through diarrhea and vomiting. The average body loses approximately 200 ml (approximately 7 fluid ounces) of fluids per day through normal bowel movements. This can literally become litres if the person suffers from diarrhea. Truck stop special, anyone?
Perspiration, which is one of the body’s ways of temperature regulation, is another large consumer of fluid reserves, and probably the most prevalent for riders. Our brain senses an increase in body temperature and takes action in two ways, which team up to bring the core temperature down. The body secretes the saline solution we all know and love, which cools the surface of the skin through evaporation. At the same time, there is increased blood flow to the skin as the blood vessels have expanded (vasodilatation). The temperature of the blood is lowered as it flows through the cooled skin, then the newly cooled blood returns to the body’s core. There, it picks up excess heat, and the process continues until a satisfactory temperature is reached. Temperature alone can cause the body to heat up and perspire, but performing work will exacerbate the creation of heat, hence we sweat more when working hard.
Some facts about perspiration:
· It only works when the sweat can evaporate, so tight clothing, or that which doesn’t ‘breathe,’ will hinder cooling.
· When perspiration drips off or is wiped away, it affords no cooling benefit and is wasted.
· In high humidity, less evaporation occurs; therefore less cooling. This is why we feel hotter on a ‘muggy’ day.
In summer, keeping the body’s fluid reserves topped up goes a long way to help prevent another killer—heat exhaustion, but that’s an article in itself.
We also lose water when we breathe, as evidenced by the fog on your face shield, and by the ability to see your breath when it’s cold. In fact, it’s during frosty weather that we lose the most moisture through transpiration. In this environment, when the cold, dry air is inhaled, it is warmed by body heat. While the air is in our lungs, it readily absorbs moisture, which exits the body when exhaled. During a long ride on a chilly, dry day, this can be a significant cause of dehydration, made even more sinister by the fact that we don’t usually feel thirsty when it’s cold.
Now we know how and why water is lost, so what happens when it isn’t replaced? The onset of dehydration appears in stages. After the loss of approximately 1.5 L of water (about 2% of the total body weight), we get thirsty. At the 3 L mark, we’re getting sluggish, tired, maybe nauseated and irritable. This is a very dangerous level for anyone operating a motorcycle, as this is where your faculties start to become affected, but you may not be aware of the deteriorated performance. United States Army experiments on helicopter pilots clearly indicate that self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate, even at relatively early stages of dehydration. In the tests, aircrew that reported feeling no adverse effects had clear, objective difficulty with cognitive tests.
By the time the body has lost 4 L, it has entered a stage of clumsiness. Headache is likely, along with an increase in core temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. At this level or beyond, you have ceased to function effectively, as coping with the fluid loss becomes the body’s priority. Refer to Figure 1.
One serious episode, or several repeated moderate episodes of dehydration can result in kidney stones, which are stone-like masses of mineral salts. They can cause intense, incapacitating pain when passing through the urinary tract, and other symptoms like fever, chills, blood in the urine, nausea and vomiting. There are several manners in which kidney stones may be treated. Shock wave lithotripsy (breaking stones) literally pulverises them into smaller pieces that can be passed more easily. Other methods are a little more invasive, if you get my drift. Anyone who’s ever had stones will tell you that one of the last places you want to be during a kidney stone attack is driving a motorcycle—as stated above, the pain can be overwhelming and debilitating. Thankfully, simply keeping the body well hydrated can prevent stones in most people. A friend who suffered a bout of kidney stones a number of years back is rarely seen without his water bottle these days. I took it as a lesson learned.
An Ounce of Prevention
So we’ve determined that dehydration is a bad thing—how do we prevent it? Well, the simple answer is ‘drink plenty of water,’ but we can do better than that.
· Recognize environments where the risk of dehydration is increased.
· Wear appropriate clothing. Newer hot weather riding gear (as explored in the July 2002 Issue of BMW Owners News) allows perspiration to do its job effectively, and will put less demand on the body’s fluid reserves. If you’re wearing traditional rider clothing, open vents while riding, and remove the suit immediately when you stop.
· When changing environments, like going from a cold climate to a warm climate or vice versa, the body can take up to two weeks to acclimatize. During this time, it may use more fluid reserves than it normally would.
· Do not rely on thirst to be the signal that you need water. By that time, you’re already on your way to dehydration. In addition, drinking a small quantity of water, insufficient to rehydrate, may fool the thirst mechanism.
· Carry a container or bottle that allows you to monitor how much fluid you drink.
· Avoid excessive use of diuretics like caffeine, alcohol, etc. (yeah, right).
· Monitor your activities such as exercise or heavy work, and rehydrate accordingly.
· Monitor your health state. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and many illnesses like influenza or the common cold will all cause the body to lose fluids at a much greater rate than normal.
· As a guide, drink enough water throughout the day to keep the urine relatively clear. This is a GREAT rule to follow in everyday life.
· Plan to carry sufficient water, and ensure it’s readily available. This can mean up to 8 L/day in some environments, or even more in extreme cases.
· If water doesn’t do it for you, try a sports drink. They’re commonly sold everywhere these days, are great for replenishing fluids and restoring electrolyte levels, which may become depleted in episodes of heavy perspiration. If you find these drinks a tad expensive, then make your own—here’s a recipe that works great.
M. O. Ade
1 L (or quart) water
1/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsweetened orange juice, or add lime juice, lemon juice or lime cordial to taste.
As we can see, preventing dehydration is important all year round. The dangers are apparent during the hot months, but cold, dry winter weather can sneak up on us and deplete the body of vital fluid without our even knowing it. I hope this article has given you a better understanding of how important and easy it is to keep your body properly hydrated, and what could happen if you don’t. Ride hydrated, and ride safely!!
Figure 1 Guide to Dehydration Indicators
Amount of Water Lost vs. Symptoms
1.5 L -You begin to feel thirsty
3 L -Fatigue, nausea, emotional instability(ok, MORE unstable), irritable (ditto).
4 L -Clumsiness, headache, high body temperature, increased heart rate, panting / heavy breathing
5 L -Dizziness, slurred speech, weakness, confusion
6 L -Delirium, swollen tongue, decreased blood volume, kidney failure
9 L -Hard to swallow, painful urination, cracked skin
12 L -Imminent death
I hope this helps you all and that this year you ride hydrated and therefore safer