RunnersConnect.net has written many in-depth articles helping runners with nutrition and training advice. We have republished their latest article, titled "Electrolytes For Runners: a Definitive Guide" which can be read here.
One thing that definitely does matter to you as a runner is hydration, you already knew that. But what about electrolytes? The big drinks companies have been telling us about the importance of them for years, and they are right….to an extent, but not in the way you think.
If you have ever cramped in a marathon, run on a hot summers day, or sweat to the point where the salt crystalized around your eyes, you definitely have required electrolytes. Even if you have not, if you have lived and breathed, your body needed electrolytes, and we are going to explain what they are, and how you can keep yours up to where they should be (without risking diabetes by constantly taking in sugary drinks!).
Most running articles discuss hydration and mention that electrolytes are necessary; however, they fail to explain what electrolytes are and why keeping them balanced is crucial to a runner’s health and success.
Electrolytes are similar to laundry soap in your washing machine; although soap doesn’t make your washer run, it is necessary to get your clothes clean. Like laundry soap, balanced electrolytes are necessary for your digestive, cardiac, muscular and nervous systems to function well.
Electrolytes are sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca 2+), magnesium, (Mg 2+), chloride (Cl-), phosphate (PO4 2-), bicarbonate (HCO3-), and sulfate (SO4 2-). Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are the four major electrolytes that maintain the body’s fluid balance.
As a side note, the + and – symbols mean these minerals are ionic. Their ionic nature gives the electrolytes the ability to carry electrical energy to keep the body’s systems functioning.
For a runner, keeping your electrolytes balanced is key for successful training and optimum performance. If your electrolytes are imbalanced, you could potentially compromise the success of your next run because of muscle fatigue or cramping. Along with the more frequent muscle cramps in the legs, stomach cramps or side stitches can also be the result of an electrolyte imbalance.
Other electrolyte imbalance symptoms are: muscle spasms, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, constipation, dark urine, decreased urine output, dry mouth and foul breath, dry skin, muscle weakness or stiff and achy joints.
Bathroom frequency and urine color are often the easiest and simplest way to assess your hydration and electrolyte levels. Although bladder size is a consideration, an average, healthy adult, should urinate 5-8 times a day and the color should be a light straw yellow. This is especially important to note after hard workouts or long runs.
While running you lose electrolytes through your sweat, mainly sodium and potassium. Potassium permits the movement of fluids and nutrients across your cells’ membranes, thus allowing them to carry on their metabolic activities such as contacting muscles.
Without sufficient potassium, your muscles cells can’t generate the necessary nerve impulses that control muscle contraction.
Cramping is the body’s way of letting you know the electrolyte tank is empty and it cannot continue; it’s like a car running out of gas. Even you’ve never experienced cramping, electrolytes need to be replenished after sessions longer than a hour to facilitate optimal recovery.
Now that we understand the function and importance of replenishing your electrolytes, we can discuss the best possible options to replenish quickly and efficiently. Of course, you can always opt for electrolyte drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, but those often contain high amounts of simple sugar. When you’re replenishing electrolytes throughout the day, you don’t want to be consuming high amounts of simple and artificial sugars.
While sports drinks are easy when racing, when you’re replenishing electrolytes throughout the day, you don’t want to be consuming high amounts of simple and artificial sugars. That is why we like EnduroPacks Spray as you can add it to any drink of your choice, and it contains all the essential electrolytes you need to maintain levels.
You could also look into Hammer Fizz, Nuun, and Nathan Catalyst as flavored alternatives to put in your drinks.
As you try different electrolyte supplements be aware of your body responds. Monitor your thirst after your run and the color of your urine. The runners at RunnersConnect.net suggest you experiment with different electrolyte supplements that do not have artificial ingredients or colors to determine if you are a drink or capsule person and which flavors fit your tastes the best.