One of the areas I've been interested to see rise in the last few years are the electrolyte drinks that have little or no carbohydrate. The emphasis becomes more on day-to-day hydration during hard training periods. But also it's something you can use, along with foods or gels, during an ultra race.
SOS Rehydrate is one of the newest of the electrolyte mixes and it's being endorsed by coach and ultra-endurance athlete Eric Orton (famous for being the progressive but no-nonsense coach of Chris McDougall in the bestselling book, "Born to Run"). The origins of SOS are staked in a group of elite distance runners, including a British mile champion, who decided they didn't like their options in the European track world. Along with Horton, race car drivers have been flocking to the new drink.
The electrolyte mix of SOS was spearheaded by Dr. Blanca Lizaola,MD, a Boston-based researcher, who's experience includes working with dehydrated children in Mexico. Unlike NUUN, it's a powder that comes in a small cylindrical tube. It has a light, sweet taste and seems to absorb instantly when you drink it. In a conversation I had with Lizaola, she told me that the osmolality factor of the powder sounds incidental, but what amazed me most about SOS was how fast and easy it was to dilute in a glass of water. A drink mix I used to use in the 1990s drove me insane because it was so hard to stir up. Not SOS--it's relatively instant.
So what's a plan that one might use with a drink like SOS?
Orton put together the following protocol using SOS Rehydrate in long runs or in racing an ultra. In training, Orton basically goes on epic runs where he relies on water from streams, so he carries the SOS packets and mixes as he goes along. For calories, he prefers nut butters but occasionally uses gels too.
- If a run is 90 minutes or less, he drinks an one diluted SOS serving before the run.
- Short, hard runs or long, moderate runs (1-2 hours) he carries a handheld bottle of SOS and sips it throughout.
- For a 2-3 hour run, he takes two bottles (handheld) with SOS in each.
- For 3+ hours, he takes the two handheld bottles plus reserve SOS tubes. He might also take a water bladder if he's unsure about whether he can refill from a stream or not. If it's a race, he can also plot out the plan in regards to the aid stations.
Dr. Brian Hickey, PhD, an exercise scientist, a Florida A&M professor and accomplished runner and duathlete, likes to emphasize hydration as something you focus on more before an event--as a fundamental factor in digesting the stress of training.
I asked him about using urine test strips to monitor signals that you might be under-hydrated, something another PhD had recommended to me.
He found the idea annoying. "That's Tim Ferris shit man," he said. "If your pee is clear, you're good to go." Hickey told me that the smart thing for the endurance athlete to do is to simply make sure you're sufficiently hydrated before you toe the line of a competition. Dr. Kelly Starrett, coach, physical therapist and author of Ready to Run, emphasizes that one benefit of hydration is tissue health. In a sport like triathlon where there's plenty of wear and tear, hydration is helpful in keeping the muscle, fascia and connective tissues supple and healthy.
So I've sort of kept that in mind along with paying attention to my state of thirst. And I've also wanted to restrict my overall carbohydrate consumption, because I've noticed that when I restrict carbs to vegetable and fruit intake, I drop five or 10 pounds of excess body-fat in a week or two. And my blood panels look better after a month or so.
I currently have both a tube of ALL-DAY NUUN tabs and a supply of SOS, mostly for just what I drink on a day to day basis. First thing I do every morning, before the coffee, is a glass of one of these. In the 1990s I routinely quenched thirst with orange juice or lemonade--at what was probably 40 grams of sugar per 8-ounces, which as Noakes will tell you, sends a shrilling spike of insulin into your blood stream. It may have been why I had so many joint issues when I started doing Ironmans. If you're genetically predisposed to insulin resistance, which I am (Noakes says that at least 50% of Americans are), then you're going to have problems whether you exercise or not: Chronic inflammation being number one, which can impact the immune system, joints and lead to type 2 diabetes problems. And rot your teeth. And it stores excess fat (insulin is a storage hormone).
Race hydration is a topic as crucial as it is beguiling. In the early days of the Ironman, it was mandatory that the athletes stepped off the course and onto scales to be weighed. If you had lost too much weight, your day was over. The scales are gone, but the how-to of it is still a hot topic. Like just about everything in triathlon, the best answers are the ones we find out by individual trial and error.
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