Salt and the ultraendurance athlete

 

Salt vs. Sodium?

Undoubtedly, some of you have noticed that FDA food labels list grams (or milligrams) of sodium, and at times in this article, I have referred to grams of salt. What is the difference? Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. The FDA labels lists only the sodium content. This is because there are usually other sodium containing salts (eg. sodium citrate) in these products. To avoid confusion, the easiest way to ensure that you have enough sodium intake is to get used to reading the FDA labels. For example to get 1 gram (1000mg) of sodium into your body, you would need to drink more than half a gallon (2.18 liters) of Gatorade — certainly impractical every hour! To get 1 gram of sodium from table salt, you would need to ingest 2.5 grams (1 gram from sodium, 1.5 grams from chloride). A teaspoon of salt weighs approximately 6.6 grams.

Relative importance for different length races

length of race
 less than 1 hr   1 – 3 hrs  >3 hrs
water   -/+  +  +
carbohydrate   –  +  +
salt   –  -/+  +

It cannot be stressed enough that you have got to know what your needs are prior to race day. Rehearse your hydration, feeding, and salt strategy during your training sessions. There are so many variations between individuals that there is no single right answer. Know what your body’s’ needs are.

  • Drink frequently to attempt to stay hydrated.
  • During a long, hot race, aim for a total sodium intake of approximately 1 gram per hour, as recommended by Doug Hiller, M.D. from experience with the Hawaii Ironman. Please note that this may not be appropriate for everyone.
  • During training, heat acclimatization, and for several days leading up to a big race make sure that you increase salt intake by 10 – 25 grams per day.
  • Sodium is also important for recovery. A Texas favorite after a hot training ride, or run, is low-fat tortilla chips (salty ones) and picante sauce (quite salty).
  • Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, or other anti-inflammatories, and acetaminophen during exercise, but especially during a race.
  • Check with your doctor if you have any health problems.
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What about salt tablets?

It is best if you strive to get your sodium from both sports drinks and salty foods — as opposed to salt tablets — for two reasons. Salty foods stimulate thirst, and it is possible to ingest too much salt with tablets but very difficult with food. If you don’t think that your food and sports drink is providing enough sodium, then consider salt tablets. Make sure you know how much you are taking!

 

What foods are best?

Ideally, foods consumed during a long race should be low fat, low protein, high carbohydrate, and provide a source of sodium. You need water, carbohydrates, and salt to survive a long race. For convenience, I have listed a few foods and sports drinks and their respective sodium content. You’ll need to experiment and find the combination that is best for you. Get used to reading the FDA labels.

            mg  sodium   serving       fat(g)   carbo(g)        
protein(g)
Gatorade      110        8 fl.oz        0           14	           0     
Exceed	       50        8 fl. oz       0           17	           0      
					
Baked Tostitos 140    1 oz.(13 chips)   1          24	          3      
SnackWell's
Wheat crackers 170      5 crackers      0          12	          2  
Sunshine Bavarian 
Sourdough pretzels 490    2 pretzels    0          23            3   
Baked Rold Gold
pretzels         500    10 pretzels    1           22	         3   
Baked Rold Gold 
Hard Sourdough 
pretzels         220     1 pretzel     	0          19	         2 
Premium Fat-free 
Saltines         130      5 crackers     0         11	         1           
Mr. Salty
pretzel twists	  550     9 pretzels    0.5        24            333

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