Electrolytes for runners play the role of keeping them constantly hydrated, maintaining an electrolyte balance, and ensuring maximum performance during runs.
Runners tend to sweat a lot during their runs, workout, or practise sessions. When they run or work out, the muscles contract at high speed, raising the body temperature. The body’s thermoregulatory function kicks in to lower these temperatures. The runner starts to sweat.
This sweat contains many essential minerals and nutrients which are lost rapidly. Minerals such as sodium and potassium, also called electrolytes, must be replaced instantly to keep the body functioning to its full potential. That is why runners are constantly gulping out of their bottles during practice and races.
This article takes a closer look at what electrolytes are, why they are essential for runners, the consequences of electrolyte imbalance, and how runners can ensure a proper electrolyte balance through their diet and hydration.
What are electrolytes?
These minerals are extremely essential for every human being. Under normal conditions, the food you eat is enough to supply you with all the electrolytes you need.
Why are electrolytes for runners essential?
Electrolytes ensure that the body works like a well-oiled machine. An article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition lists out the best electrolytes for runners and their significance in sports performance. According to this article, runners should ensure a proper balance of these nutrients through diet and hydration (2).
Runners tend to sweat a lot during running especially in hot climates or cold climates where they bundle up under warm clothing. With sweat, they also lose all essential electrolytes, especially sodium.
This loss can throw the body off-balance, more so mid and post-runs. Consequences can include parched mouth and throat, dizziness, increased heartbeat, etc.
Drinking only water will cause the sodium levels to drop drastically since a lot of sodium is lost through sweat. Dangerously low levels of sodium often lead to a condition called hyponatremia in runners (3). Of course, sweat also tends to throw off other vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chloride as well.
The resulting dehydration in runners can also cause symptoms such as:
- Cramps and side stitches
- Confusion and dizziness
- Irregular motor coordination
- Dark-coloured urine
- Irregular or faster heartbeat
These signs signify that the body is working harder to compensate for the loss of the all-important electrolytes for runners.
The right hydration drink for runners should have the right balance of water/fluids and electrolytes. So, what amount of electrolytes should a runner consume? This depends on various factors such as:
- Bodyweight changes
- Weather/humidity during the race/marathon
- Sweat rate
Let’s say running is your hobby and your run may be around 30 or 45 minutes a day and have a well-rounded, balanced diet. Water or even coconut water with some salt added may be enough to compensate for the electrolyte loss.
If you are a professional or a marathon runner or run for more than 90 minutes at a stretch, this is where things start getting serious. Runners usually undergo a lot of practice and training sessions before their big race. This is a good time to monitor your electrolyte loss and plan your intake accordingly.
One of the important factors to consider when calculating electrolyte intake is sweat rate. So, what is the sweat rate? It is the number of fluids that a person loses in the form of sweat when running. Calculating the sweat rate gives an idea of how much fluids a runner is losing during runs. These fluids and electrolytes can be replaced through electrolyte drinks. How to calculate sweat rate? You can use an online sweat calculator.
To give you a basic idea, you can measure yourself before a run, carry on with your run for a fixed time, say one hour, and then measure yourself post-run. The difference in weights can help you deduce how much sweat loss you experience on your runs.
How can a runner ensure electrolyte balance?
Runners should develop individual rehydration strategies based on the factors mentioned above with the help of their nutritionists and coaches, if available.
An article published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine emphasizes aggressive fluid replacement proportional to the sweat rate (4).
On average, runners can lose anywhere between 500 to 1000ml during intense workouts and runs. Runners’ hydration must be frequent and in large quantities to compensate for the overall fluid loss while training, during the race, and post-race.
How much fluids should a runner drink?
While this is subjective, the general rule is to consume 100 to 200 ml of electrolyte drinks, especially during marathon runs and races. The electrolyte for runners must replace lost minerals and have enough carbs to allow for successful completion of the race.
Hydration strategy for runners should involve the following steps:
- Start well ahead of your race.
- Consume a well-balanced diet rich in electrolytes.
- Include whole unprocessed foods, lean protein, milk and milk products, and fermented drinks.
- Avoid processed, refined, and fried foods.
- Drink 250 to 500 ml of electrolyte drink at least 30 minutes before our running workouts and training sessions.
- Continue drinking 100ml to 200 ml every 20 minutes during workouts.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Continue the same strategy on race day. Hydrate 30 minutes before the race and continue having electrolyte drinks throughout the race. It is very important to stay hydrated even after the completion of your race or marathon event.
What are some best electrolytes for runners:
Some of the popular electrolyte drinks for runners include
- Coconut water with some pink salt/Himalayan salt added
- Fruit juices/smoothies
- Bottled sports/electrolyte/energy drinks
- Electrolyte tablets and powders
- Oral rehydration solutions.
Also read: Top 10 Natural Electrolytes
How much electrolytes should a runner’s hydration drink contain?
The best runners hydration drink should meet certain specific criteria.
- The ideal sodium concentration should be between 1.7gm and 2.9gm per litre of water.
- Carbohydrate inclusion is vital for ensuring maximum performance and fluid absorption into the body.
- Glucose, sucrose, or fructose must be included at 3-5% weight per volume. This ensures glucose oxidation and promotes exercise intensity.
- Sugar and salt content must depend on sweat rate and the runner’s underlying health conditions if any.
Having said that, the best electrolytes for runners depend on a few conditions such as:
- Individual performances
- Personal preferences
- The end goal of electrolyte consumption
- Underlying medical conditions
Bear in mind that while drinking fluids is essential, moderation is important too.
Overhydration and underhydration both can affect the overall performance and final outcomes for runners.
Nutritionists and trainers constantly formulate runners’ hydration and diet plans to help them perform to the best of their abilities.
Electrolytes for runners are crucial to help them maintain fitness levels, avoid dehydration symptoms, and perform to the best of their abilities during the all-important races and marathons.
A balanced diet rich in electrolytes, constant hydration with the best electrolyte drinks for runners, and a focus on fitness is critical to ensure optimal health and performance all year round.