In January, 13 University of Iowa football players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a disease caused by muscle breakdown that can lead to kidney failure. The news shot “rhabdo” into the spotlight, highlighting how one single workout caused the illness. But how concerned should endurance athletes be about getting rhabdo?
It’s not as much the sport you do, but how you do it that causes the problem, says David Wallis, MD, a team physician with the U.S. Soccer Team and Major League Soccer.
“Many factors go into a person’s likelihood of developing rhabdo, including temperature, hydration, genetic predisposition, workout intensity and baseline training level,” says Wallis.
For example, just because you’ve run a marathon in the past doesn’t mean you should run 26 miles without an appropriate build up; doing so can put you at risk because your body has not been trained to handle that stress.
Wallis recommends these three rhabdo prevention tips: Anticipate environmental conditions and plan your hydration accordingly; get in solid base training before pushing maximal intensity workouts; and get tested for sickle cell trait, a genetic disorder that might increase your chances of getting rhabdo—it’s now required that all NCAA Division I athletes are tested.
• Tender, sore muscles
• Dark, cola-colored urine
If you develop these symptoms after you push yourself harder than you feel you should have, see your doctor, says Wallis.