European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology vol:59 issue:4 pages:296-302
The intracellular concentrations of sodium [Na+] and potassium [K+] and the water content in human erythrocytes were investigated in 21 male runners before and after a marathon. From 2 to 5 min after the race, the intra-erythrocyte [K+] was significantly decreased (p less than 0.001) by 7% whereas the plasma [K+], intra-erythrocyte [Na+] and the erythrocyte water content were unchanged. The change in the intra-erythrocyte [K+] observed immediately after the marathon, was negatively correlated with the race time (r = -0.44; p less than 0.05). Furthermore, the change in the plasma [K+] (r = -0.64; p less than 0.001) and the amount of K+ excreted in the urine during the race (r = 0.54; p less than 0.05) were also, respectively, negatively and positively correlated with the race time. It is concluded that during prolonged physical exercise the erythrocytes could serve as a kind of K+ reservoir that is drained with increasing magnitude of body K+ loss. This might explain why in the faster marathon runners, in whom the urinary K+ loss is smaller and the K+ intake is greater than in the slower runners during race, the intra-erythrocyte [K+] is unchanged after a marathon whereas in the slower runners it is decreased.