Getting A Great Body Requires Water And Electrolytes
In any race longer than the half-marathon, much of the body’s natural mineral salts are lost due to sweating. If not properly replaced, their lack can bring on an increased risk of dehydration, cramp and slow peak performance and recovery time. The main minerals to watch are sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium:
- Sodium is essential for the body’s uptake of water, and too low a sodium concentration in the body can be very dangerous. Slower marathoners and ultramarathoners need to worry about sodium intake more than faster runners as they are out on the course for longer.
- Potassium deficiency is a factor in causing lactic acid cramps and can also exaggerate the effects of not ingesting enough sodium. Fresh fruit – particularly bananas – are a great source of potassium; one banana contains five times as much potassium as a mineral supplement. salt tablets
- Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating cellular body mechanisms, and keeping your magnesium levels up in your diet can help you recover quicker from races. Magnesium loss during races may also be a factor in cramping.
- Calcium loss over a long period of training can lead to an increased risk of cramping during intense activity. However, balanced dietary habits should take care of this problem.
Of course, during a race one doesn’t want to be fiddling around with trying to meet each of these mineral requirements. Many electrolytic drinks now on the market aim to restore lost sodium and potassium in particular, in addition to supplying energy. It is recommended that you drink 100-200ml every 20 minutes of a long race. Some races will automatically supply electrolyte drinks, but it is a good idea to test out a drink you like on shorter races and training, and then bring it to the longer races.
If you don’t like any of the electrolyte drinks, you can perhaps test out your own combination with fruit juice and/or sugar mixed with water to keep a 4-8% carbohydrate content, mixed with a high-potassium salt such as LoSalt. Electrolyte replacers such as Dioralyte mixed with water can also be a substitute. One marathon I ran, the Self-Transcendence Marathon in New York, handed out cell salts and dulse seaweed to runners. Dulse seaweed contains the salt balance most easily digested by the human body: just chew it for a couple of minutes and wash it down with some water. Cell salts as the name suggests also contains the mineral balance found in the cells; however again it is best to test during training before using the race as they disagree with some stomachs.
There is mixed opinions on whether runners need to take mineral supplements outside of races. Many people think that a combination of electrolyte replacement during races and a balanced diet renders extra supplements unnecessary. Each tablet will contain relatively small doses of minerals to avoid stomach upsets, and advises the user to take them three times a day instead. My personal experience is that they do help with staving off cramps and increasing recovery, but what works for me might not work for everybody.