Electrolyte Replacement


Electrolytes are an important element to successful running. It is not just necessary to replace electrolytes after a run, but they need to be consumed prior to a run as well. For this post I just want to talk about replacement, during and after a run.

In the graphic above there are five key electrolytes that we need. All five in some way or another deal with muscles where a lack of them can cause cramping, weakness, spasms, paralysis, or, in the case of the heart, an irregular heartbeat. Missing just one of these during long run can cause problems that are just plain avoidable. Just for information purposes there are 2 other electrolytes to be aware of, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate. Hydrogen phosphate is an important ingredient in cell energy production. Hydrogen carbonate deals with the acid/base (pH) balance in the body.

There are plenty of replacement drinks, powders, gels, and drink additives on the market. They take some trial and error to figure out what works best for each of us. Personally, I like the fizzy tablets such as Nuun or Tailwind. When using Gatorade, or other sports drinks, make sure that a little extra water is added so that the sugars in them do not cause digestive distress. Some people can tolerate the added sugar, but make sure to test them during training to make sure they can be tolerated. The same goes when using gels and make sure to drink some water with them so they do not upset the stomach.

They key to using an electrolyte replacement during a long run of 90 minutes or more is to take them before the body needs them. It is suggested to start the first replacement about an hour into the run at the latest. If you tend to sweat more than the average person it might be wise to start around 30 to 45 minutes. There is no need to chug your drink. An ounce or two will do the trick. Some people will sip during the whole run or take a couple of swigs every few miles. This is another case of testing what works during training so that during a race you already have a strategy planned out. While consuming the electrolyte replacement think about adding some carbohydrates in with the drink. It might be a good idea to have what you need by bringing some sports bottles with you for the race. The carbs can be added to the drink, honey or sugar, or can be something as simple as raisins to snack on. Figure out what works for you in your training and use it during the race.

Looking at the list of food sources in the above graphic I would say that a nice smoothie or salad would make a good electrolyte replacement after a run. Add some protein powder or dairy into the drink just to make sure you are starting on the protein replacement as well. It is a good idea to get this done one to two hours after the run.

There you have it. Not having a good electrolyte balance can cause our training to suffer or getting muscle cramps or weakness during a race. Make sure to stay hydrated with electrolytes and you should be able to get those long runs in and have your race come off without a hitch.

“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”
-Bart Yasso


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