What is Rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis (also called "rhabdo") is the death of muscle cells. When muscle is damaged under duress, it releases the protein myoglobin — a protein that stores oxygen in the muscles — into the bloodstream. High levels of myoglobin can damage kidney cells and cause renal failure. Most people suffering from rhabdo have dark-, red- or cola-colored urine, which signals myoglobin in the blood, and may also experience muscle weakness, fatigue, difficulty moving limbs and bruising.

Rhabdomyolysis is not a new syndrome and there are many causes of this potentially fatal condition, including drug- or alcoholinduced dehydration, crush injuries caused by accidents and extreme muscle strain.

Most recently, rhabdomyolysis has been making headlines in connection with popular high-intensity workout regimens in which participants jump, climb and power-lift their way to the brink of their abilities — and, according to critics, dangerously beyond. According the American College of Sports Medicine’s "Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2014," high-intensity interval training placed as the top fitness trend, despite warnings of many survey respondents about high injury rates.

Intense exercise can have a slew of benefits when performed correctly; however, improper training and inadequate nutrition can lead to injury, and athletes at every skill level must learn how to protect themselves from rhabdomyolysis. Adequate nutrition and hydration are the building blocks of an effective workout, and drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after a strenuous workout helps flush any myoglobin released from the muscles out of the kidneys.

Jim White
Jim White, RD, ACSM, is a health fitness instructor and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia.