Back when I started running ultras, the consumption of supplemental electrolytes was more or less a given. If you were runnign long, you needed to be consuming a product like !S Caps, Salt Sticks, or good ‘ole rock salt. The logic made sense- you lost salt via sweat. When combined with water consumption, runners risked hyponatremia.
I would take one S! Cap about every hour or so depending on temperature. My sweat would get saltier and saltier, which led to burning eyes and chafing (salt deposits around the groin and arm pits is much like having sex on a beach- grit + friction = unpleasant results).
Of course, the electrolytes DID dramatically reduce the danger of hyponatremia. The problem had more to do with an overconsumption of water, and the electrolyte overconsumption was an unfortunate side effect.
I had a lot of friends that read Noaks’ new book “Waterlogged.” I haven’t read it myself, but their ad nauseum discussions pretty muchh summed up the plot: Drink to thirst.
I started following this advice, first at the Grand Mesa 100 miler, then the TransRockies six day stage race, and lastly at the Grindstone 100 miler. In all three races, I cut my water consumption considerably… with no ill effects.
The other benefit- I didn’t require any electrolyte supplementation. I did get some electrolytes from the various gels I ate, along with the half pound of bacon I ate ten hours before the race. Aside from that, I was electrolyte-free.
The result- my sweat wasn’t especially salty. At Grindstone, I didn’t have any salt-induced chafing issues. As long as I didn’t over-drink, I had no need to supplement electrolytes.
But what about symptoms like cramping?
Good question. During the Bighorn 100 miler, I had severe cramping all over my body. I attributed it to a lack of electrolytes or dehydration. I frantically ate salt tabs and drank a shit ton of water. Neither fix solved the problem. What finally did? Cool temperatures. This was the race that led to my “overheating due to moisture-wicking materials” hypothesis (can’t take credit; others have hypothesized this for awhile).
Many in the ultrarunning community seem to believe hot temperatures can be remedied by drinking more water and taking more electrolytes. Unfortunately, the body only has a finite ability to cool itself via sweat (and moisture-wicking materials may dramatically reduce that ability). So… the solution isn’t necessarily drinking more liquid and popping more salt. The solution could be taking steps to cool down. Here are a few:
- Slow down. Movement generates heat. More movement generates more heat. To cool down, slow down.
- Seek shade. No explanation needed.
- Ditch clothes. Unless the clothing is intended to reflect heat (white clothing in the desert) or act as a solar furnace, less is more.
- Get wet. Dousing yourself with water facilitates evaporative cooling. Cooler water also helps cool the body (via conduction).
- Expose yourself to a breeze. This also helps facilitate evaporative cooling (via convection).
Reframing the problem from hydration/ electrolyte imbalance to thermoregulation has resulted in great success for me personally. I also have quite a few friends that have toyed around with these ideas and experienced similar positive results. Give these methods a shot. You’ll like the results.