Electrolytes 101

I am training for an Ironman triathlon. Should I consume extra sodium?

After extended sweaty exercise, you should plan to replace sodium if:

  1. you are craving salt, and
  2. you are covered with a layer of salt on your skin.

Many tired athletes report the salt helps revive them so they feel better. Plus, it helps with rehydration because it holds water in your body.

You can also consume salty foods, such as chicken broth or ramen noodles before extended sweaty exercise, so the sodium will be in your system, helping to retain fluid and maintain hydration. Experiment with consuming pre-exercise sodium during training. Some athletes complain of intestinal upset or heaviness. You are an experiment of one!

Assuming the longer and harder you exercise, the hungrier you'll get and the more sodium-containing foods and fluids you'll eat—and easily consume more than enough electrolytes during and after the workout. Standard snacks (yogurt, bagels) and meals (pizza, pasta) have more sodium than you may realize. Nibbling on olives, pickles, crackers & cheese can easily replace sodium losses. (See the table and read food labels for sodium content.) As for potassium, chugging 16-ounces of chocolate milk for a recovery drink more than replaces the potassium a marathoner might lose.     

What about commercial sports foods with sodium?

If you are tempted to replace sodium losses with commercial sports foods and fluids, note that most of these engineered products are relatively poor sources of sodium. (See the table below.) Some frugal ultra-distance athletes simply lick a small packet of salt from their palm or suck on a boullion cube. Tastes great if you crave it!

Sodium in Popular Recovery Foods

Food

Sodium (mg)

Chicken noodle soup, 1 can Campbell's   2,350
Pizza, 1 small Domino's cheese    2,330
Ramen noodles, Maruchan, 1 packet    1,580
Spaghetti sauce, 1 cup Ragu     1,160
Boullion, 1 cube Herb-Ox Chicken    1,100
Salt, 1 small packet         590
Pretzels, 1 oz (30 g) Rold Gold thins      560
Bagel, 1 Thomas' New York style (3.7 oz)     540
V-8 Juice, 8 ounces        480
American cheese, 1 slice Kraft       250
SaltStick capsule, 1        215
Cheerios, 1 cup multigrain       200
Yogurt, 6 oz Stonyfield Farms vanilla     115
Bread, 1 slice Pepperidge Farm hearty slices     190
Saltine crackers, 5         180
Potato chips, 20 Lay's         180
Chocolate milk, Nesquik, 8 oz      150
Gatorade, 8 ounces        110
Endurolytes (electrolytes), 1 capsule        100
Powerade, 8 ounces          70
Beer, 12 ounce can          15
Coke, 12 ounce can          10
Orange juice, 8 ounces   

 5

Potential loss in a two-hour workout              1,000-2,000
  
            


Nancy Clark MS, RD counsels casual exercisers and competitive athletes at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-383-6100). Her NEW 2008 Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook 4th Edition, and her Food Guide for Marathoners and Cyclist's Food Guide are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com

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