Trailer Trash


At what distance do you (personally) add electrolytes? (Read 80 times)

    Some background on why I ask:  Thus far, I tend to run all my races (up to 50k) without any electrolyte supplementation, other than what I get from eating whole foods at the aid stations.  I'm going to be tackling my first 50M at the end of May, so I'm wondering if I need to start experiementing beforehand, or do some people do okay at these distances without taking in anything special?

      It will depend on *your* electrolyte needs, weather, acclimatization, salt content of sweat, etc.


      Our temperatures are generally relatively cool, and I'm not a heavy sweater. Most of the time I can get by with salty foods (pretzels, wheat thins, margarita shot bloks, even slimfast has some) for many hours. On a hot day (70F, sunny), I may use some - maybe half a dozen Scaps in 13+ hrs.


      I would look a the 9-box table at bottom of this article and try to understand the various symptoms. Notice I said "try" - it's not easy, and symptoms can be confusing. But that at least gives you a starting place.


      When I first started, I tried to follow some guidelines and found myself over or under something. I finally backed off trying to follow any guidelines and just responded to my body. It made things much easier since I wasn't chasing things as much.


      Also, be sure to read labels. The different products have way different amounts of sodium, and they also vary in terms of what else is in there. You might need 10 of one company's capsules and only one of another or conversely, one might be too much of a dose at one time.


      MTA: If your race has aid stations, they may have some really salty food, like potato chips, salted potatoes (these are usually more in longer races), etc.

      "So many people get stuck in the routine of life that their dreams waste away. This is about living the dream." - Cave Dog

      Faster Than Your Couch!

        I usually can do runs up to marathon distance without needing electrolytes, but sometimes I already need some supplementation already less than 20 miles in (happened in my first 50-miler, although there it was rather the case that I had run hard too early on, so my muscles had the tendency to cramp up already at slight electrolyte depletion, which would normally not cause a problem). The recommendation, as a general guideline, is to take 0.5 to 1.0 gram of sodium per hour, on average in warm and hot weather, but th actual amounts measured for a number of athletes during events vary considerably. You may observe how much water or liquid you need after a long run where you did hydrate to your best knowledge, and for how long that feeling of thirst lasts. If you feel thirsty even hours after the completion of your run, and no amount of drink seems to help, you are definitely lacking electrolytes (especially sodium). With sweat, you loose mainly sodium, but as you won't eat your normal diet during an endurance event, you'll also have to ingest your usual amounts of e.g. potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus, as your body would get with the calories it needs in that day. You won't be able to meet your calorie need during the run, which is ok (you use glycogen and body fat to cover the deficit, try to avoid using protein from muscles to cover the need for protein during the run by eating some protein), but you'll need the electrolytes that you'd get with those calories. The body is capable to regulate absorption of electrolytes to some degree depending on supply and demand, so getting a bit too little or too much is usually not an issue (but taking way too little or way too much can be dangerous). I learned a lot about my needs on long training runs. There's just no way around that. You'll get a good idea about how your body reacts, and what might fix different issues. And once you think you've figured it out, something unexpected will happen, forcing you to be flexible and trust your intuition and experience more than just guidelines.

        Run for fun.

        running under the BigSky

          if I run over 3 hours, I start a electrolyte regime (usually an Endurolyte and a Saltstick capsule an hour).  From what I've read it's really pretty hard to overdo electrolytes- I'm sure it can be done, but you'd really have to try hard imo


          of course everyones body chemistry is different, so something you'll have to play w/ it some


          btw one cause of gastric distress during ultras is lack of electrolytes, having experienced bad nausea twice during two runs gives me more incentive to take electrolytes Smile

          Occasional Runner

            It has nothing to do with distance, it's all about loss of electrolytes. While distance plays a role, I find that weather is a bigger factor. And I would have to respectfully disagree with mtwarden, overuse of electrolytes is a common problem during long races and will result in your body retaining fluids rather than utilizing them. Statistically, more people DNF as a result of too much electrolytes rather than the lack of them. It can be a tricky balance. It's best to become familiar with the signs that your body sends your way. I know exactly what it feels like when I need more electrolytes and I regulate accordingly.


              If I run less than two hours, I often bring nothing unless it is very hot. If 2+ hours or hot, I start with electrolytes from the outset. I always cycle with electrolytes. No reason not to. I experiment with electrolytes in my bottles (cycling) and have Endurolytes or Enervit GT ready to supplement as tablets so I can add/subtract as necessary. If you overmix at an aid station or a remote spring), you are stuck.


              Agree it is a tricky balance

              Uh oh... now what?

                What lace_up said... running environment is the biggest factor.  At 118ºF it took two bottles to get through six miles of flatish desert at an easy effort.  That included two Thermotabs (almost generic salt tablets).  Other days, whatever the aid stations offered (old days of no electrolyte stuff yet) was good enough--water, Gatorade, chips, a variety of melons.  Our diet was more important then.  I think we (and most runners) used the ready availability of stuff to get through when a good diet is just as important and has better long term effects.


                  I sweat a lot, so in hot weather I take S-caps when I go over two hours. In the 2-3 hour range, that intake is mostly for mental clarity and post-run recovery. As I go longer, it impacts the actual race.


                  Lace-up: I believe that you are right when you say over-electrolyzing is common, but do you have any studies supporting that claim?


                  Here is one that's tangentially relevant: of Western States finishers with too little sodium, 24% had over-hydrated, and 36% had under-hydrated.

                  3/8 Way Too Cool 50k WNS

                  4/19 Tehama Wildflowers 50k


                    Thanks for all your input guys!  I have a 50k coming up that I'll probably use to experiment with.  I think trying to figure out how to approach the whole electrolyte/fuel/hydration component of the longer stuff seems more daunting than actually attempting the miles themselves.  You all have given me a great starting point, though!

                    Occasional Runner


                      Lace-up: I believe that you are right when you say over-electrolyzing is common, but do you have any studies supporting that claim?



                      No, not a study that I can point to. I was discussing the topic with the head physician for the Leadville 100 and he shared the statistics with me, but I can't quote the source. Beyond that, I would be relying on my personal experience, which would indicate that it's a true statement.

                      Uh oh... now what?


                        No, not a study that I can point to. I was discussing the topic with the head physician for the Leadville 100 and he shared the statistics with me, but I can't quote the source. Beyond that, I would be relying on my personal experience, which would indicate that it's a true statement.

                        If it wasn't for the destroyed (or very difficult to access) history from RWOL, I would take the time to find some of the threads where the folks talked about a fixed schedule for electrolyte pills, tablets, capsules, or whatever.  Some wrote of a rigidity that ignored weather and effort.  The idea of electrolyte replacement as a gospel has sort of paralleled the "need" for gels or some form of fuel all the way down to the 10k.  In the grand 'voice of one' stuff I was surprised (mildly) at someone who had a beeper set for 45 minutes for his electrolytes and a second noise for his gels.


                        With the instant access to expert advice from anyone with a keyboard I think a lot of people never do the work themselves.  People go into taper (the last two, maybe three weeks?--even that is done under advisement rather than personal development) and post about which pill, capsule, stick, or powder to use--sort of a de facto admission of skipping one of the uses of long runs.


                        It would surely be interesting to have a few legitimate studies done for ultramarathons.  I have been a lab rat twice and, if nothing else, it was impressive to experience the personal feelings of well-designed diet or hydration programs.  Ultramarathons are too far below the budget radar for studies.  Even with the huge growth of ultras our sport still holds a very small percentage of the running population.


                        Sort of like training -- how many devote eight months to one method, do the race, then change programs completely, do the eight months of the new, bigger and better training program, do the race --- it is easier to ask, assume the truth and legitimacy of the source and not learn exactly what it is your body (and mind) need.


                        And other stuff...

                          It is possible that Blake Wood's Barkley story from way back  ("I took a Succeed S! cap every hour") has contributed to the insistence on schedules that many people have.  All I know is that I might need to take 1 an hour on a hot day, but stop taking them completely once night falls.


                          With reasonable training, and in reasonable weather, you should be able to go 1 hour without anything, and two hours on just water only.  If the weather is unreasonable, like >100F, then you should be looking at a short, easy run anyway.


                          McMillan has a classic article on long runs which, while focused on the suggestion that carbs be reduced if not eliminated, also suggests that long runs can be accomplished on just water and electrolytes.  If you only ever read one article in your life on the philosophy of the long run, make it this one:


                          McMillan Training Tip Article - The Marathon Long Run


                          Noakes has the down-right heretical view that people drink too much and don't need salt at all.  Here is an anecdotal story that puts it to the test:


                          Waterlogged Part II: Trials, Questions, and Suggestions Regarding Hydration and Ultramarathons


                          Noakes may be on to something, but it may also be along the lines of what McMillan talks about, which is that you have to train your body to go without.


                          Faster Than Your Couch!

                            The study Chnaiur links to is one source, and there are a few more studies (I have posted links in other threads on nutrition, hydration and electrolyte replacement topics earlier) which deal with the issue.


                            Reviewing and summarizing several studies, what I found interesting was that


                            - electrolyte supplement intake, especially high amounts of sodium (in excess of 1 g/hour average over the whole distance and duration of the race in hot weather in a 100-mile race) had no influence on electrolyte levels in the blood plasma.

                            Low concentrations of electrolytes were caused by overhydration with plain water and a general lack of food (caloric) intake, and the one documented case of slight hyponatraemia of a runner at about 50 miles into the race was successfully resolved by the runner himself by the end of the race.


                            - runners who ingested less than 0.6 g of sodium per hour on average over the duration of the race (in hot weather conditions during the day, and moderate/cool temps in the night) were significantly less likely to finish the race. At 0.4g sodium/hour or less, the DNF rate doubled compared to runners ingesting more than 0.6 g/hour.

                            This threshold is still far below the usual recommendation of 1g sodium/hour given out by many athletic associations, coaches, and medical staff.


                            - even runners suffering from dehydration (lack of fluid) did not show abnormal electrolyte concentrations (too high or too low) in their blood plasma.


                            My guess is that not only is the need for electrolyte replacement a highly individual issue, but that the perception of the runner plays an important role, too. Some people feel better with saltier foods or more supplements, others feel better with less, and both maintain normal electrolyte levels in their blood plasma.


                            Overdosing on electrolytes during a long run, especially over 12 hours, seems hard to accomplish, given the fact that on any regular day, people take in 2-4 times the amount of sodium they really need without any acute major problems. I know that it might feel uncomfortable to "swell up" during a run, but when those studies looked at the blood plasma levels of electrolytes of those runners who felt "uncomfortable" or "lacking electrolytes", these levels were within the normal range (which, in my opinion, tells us that the "normal range" might be too wide for an individual runner to feel comfortable, and that during a run, one might react very sensitively to even very small changes in electrolyte levels in their blood, even though these might still be considered "normal"). So medical significance might differ from personal perception of comfort and optimum performance.


                            So, let's take the issue, the studies, recommendations and single-data-point regressions with a grain of salt... Wink  ... and rely more on what we learn from our own long runs, that's my 2cents.

                            Run for fun.

                              Thanks to everyone that weighed in.  I realize I'm going to be an experiment of one, as always, but this thread has given me a good bit to think about, especially if things aren't working for me.  I have no doubt I'll make some mistakes with my first 50, hopefully I'll learn pretty rapidly what works and what doesn't.