Electrolyte replacement and you

I was dreaming I was outside on top of the Empire State building and a huge thunderstorm was rolling in.  I had to fight against a strong wind action-movie style to get to the door to the stairs.   Crash!  Boom!  And then I was awake and it was pouring outside.  It’s still raining and I can hear the trees cheering outside the window as I type.  The National Weather Service says we get an average of 29.12 inches of rainfall annually.  We’ve only had 7.6 inches since October, which is “the least for that period since weather service measurements began in 1871.”(San Antonio Express-News)  Let the fact that I’m bothering to blog about rain speak to how desiccated we feel.  I’m hoping for some puddle stomping later this morning.

So I came across this piece on hydration and electrolyte use on Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science website that I thought you might find interesting (if you haven’t already come across it).  Hutchinson presents a study involving 18 South African Special Forces soldiers marching with heavy packs in temperatures reaching 112 degrees.  They’re out for about four hours.  Here’s the sentence from the study I thought you’d find interesting.  “This confirms the now well-established finding that serum sodium concentration can be maintained during exercise without the need for acute sodium replacement during exercise.”  I did not know this was well confirmed.  Hutchinson says you can’t extrapolate this finding to ultras in the comments, of course.  (So don’t get all excited or agitated.)  He speculates electrolyte replacement during 4+ hour events might allow for greater effort over time in hot conditions.  “I’m not sure what happens when you translate this to an ultra race, where your motivation to place as highly as possible might override your body’s desire to slow down. In this case, can taking extra salt allow you to maintain a harder effort before being cued to slow down by hydration limits? I don’t know, but this study certainly doesn’t rule that out.”  The piece led to some fun discussion among us San Antonio runners — most all of whom take electrolyte tabs during training runs and races.  Everyone agreed they helped ward off leg cramps– or treat them.  There’s no science behind that popular notion according to Hutchinson, (I can post that info if you’d like) — just lots of runners swearing it works.  I drink GUs Electrolyte Brew these days.  And I don’t take electrolyte pills — usually because I forget them or they melt into a salty blob in the pocket of my hydration pack.  You?  I love how none of these studies can really be extrapolated to ultras.

Running: 60 minutes hilly


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11 Responses to Electrolyte replacement and you

  1. footfeathers says:

    So this is this month’s fad topic: don’t need electrolyte replacement. Noakes talks about it here (34 mins into podcast) http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/08/episode-157-the-death-of-gatorade-should-you-stop-using-electrolytes-during-exercise/

    I hope all the folks I race against heed this advice. Starting at leadville!

    • lizahoward says:

      I thought that might elicit a comment. 🙂 I’d heard the podcast too. What’s great is that Trail Runner (I think it was Trail Runner) has an article about electrolyte use that recommends the exact opposite. Almost makes me want to be an exercise physiologist.

  2. Found that pretty interesting too. Haven’t listened to the Noakes talk yet.

    I used to use an electrolyte drink, but continued to have issues with knowing exactly how much to get in. I found it easier and have had much better success when I switched to using S-caps. Like the simplicity of knowing that every hour I need to take one (or every half hour on the really hot days). Felt like I was guessing a little too much with the drink forms.

  3. SteveQ says:

    Did you spell “desiccated” without spell check? That’s always been my test word for spelling bee champions; I see it misspelled in books all the time.

  4. Bergbrain says:

    In assessing the scientific evidence, I’d believe Noakes over the folks at TR. No question.

  5. mtnrunner2 says:

    The electrolyte articles don’t really fit with my experience, although my goal was not racing speed, but simply to finish long runs (for me that means 15 to 25+ miles) without leg cramping and to avoid cramps later, usually at night. All I can say is some combination of water and S-caps has eliminated cramps totally. So, is that considered “needing” sodium replacement?

    Add food to the mix with water and S-caps and I’ve also eliminated nausea on long runs.

    Granted my “experiment” (or lack thereof) does not control for each component separately, but instead basically throws everything I can think of at the problems of cramping and nausea. But it works.

    • lizahoward says:

      Leg cramping is interesting. I read that there isn’t any research linking cramping to electrolyte depletion. But, like you said, SCaps get rid of them for a lot of people. I just have the nausea issue, no leg cramps. And I’m still in the “throwing everything I can think of” phase of that.

  6. George Zack says:

    I get what Noakes is saying: our bodies are damn good at managing us for what we were designed to do. Thirsty? Drink. Hungry? Eat. The science that has been put out there by companies like Gatorade has us shoving their replacement drinks down the throats of every kid at half time of every soccer game as well as before and after. That is hardly scientific or necessary.

    That said, I am fairly certain what we are doing is a bit beyond what the outcomes of evolution “had in mind.” It is fair to say that in order to realize peak performance in a 100 mile event, or even a 4 hour one at higher intensity, some of the rules of hydration and electrolytes need to be reconsidered. Sure – can you do it with a pack and a rifle? Absolutely. That is different than performing for a PR.

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