Should you take salt while running?
Imagine yourself having the most exquisite recipe, devoid of any salt. Wouldn't it be bland?
Salt (Sodium Chloride) is an essential condiment in all cuisines. But, there is more than flavoring to salt. It has a bad reputation for being the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases. In India, around 25% of all deaths in a year are caused by excessive sodium in the diet.
But if you want to run faster and enjoy it, you need take salt while running. Sodium helps to regulate the fluid balance in the body during running. Maybe you are hydrating yourself drinking a lot of water. But, if you fail to consume salt at the same time, it upsets the electrolytic balance in the bloodstream. Moreover, drinking plain water, without any salt inclusion, and running for a long time, in a hot condition, might drop your level of sodium in the blood too low. The problem is too much salt is bad for health and consuming too little salt impair your running.
I remember when I faced severe leg cramps while running Delhi Half Marathon and salt came to my rescue. Just licking a pinch of salt eased the cramps and I could finish the marathon. Since then I swear by salt and carry electrolyte water with me during long runs. I prefer Electral ORS, which is a WHO formula and is easily available in India.
This article aims to dwell on everything you need to know about taking salt while running.
Risks of low sodium levels
When one has an abnormally low amount of sodium in the blood or has too much water in the blood, it is a case of low sodium. This mostly happens if you simply drink water for hydrating yourself without replenishing the amount of sodium lost. This may lead to hyponatremia. Symptoms of this condition can include:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Drowsiness, fatigue
• Restlessness, irritability
• Weak muscles, muscle cramps
What affects the sodium level?
In case one follows a low-sodium diet plan, it becomes necessary to add extra salt before running. While the individual sodium needs depend on one’s amount of sweat and sodium concentration therein, it is also affected by several other factors. People tend to sweat more when it is too hot. Running hard also affects sweating. Moreover, physiology also plays a significant role. Some people sweat heavily and their sweat is saltier.
Whatever may be the reason; this loss of sodium can have a drastic effect on your body condition. This is why replenishing the salt is critical.
How much salt is needed?
Maybe you are sweating seriously during running. If there are salt marks on your clothes and you have felt beads of salt on your skin after evaporation of sweats, you have a desperate need for a thirst-quenching drink. This proves that you need to replenish the salt and sodium level in your body. This is why regular runners are advised to take salty foods before a racing event.
Generally, a runner sweats around 1500 to 2000 mg salt in running for one hour. If you sweat more profusely, you may lose up to 3000 mg of salt. The recommended daily allowance of sodium consumption for adults is 2300 mg. So, if you continue after one hour without replenishing the salt, you are likely to have muscle cramps. Unfortunately, your thirst drops as you start sweating. So, you must be mindful of your condition and drink or take a snack that has at least 200 mg of salt to keep you fit.
Is it okay to add more salt to the foods?
Despite sodium being an electrolyte, increasing the daily consumption of salt can hardly maintain the balance of the electrolytes. This is because sodium tends to retain water in the body. So, consuming sodium alone might cause swelling ankles, feet, and hands.
Including essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium in your pre-, during- and post-run drinks as per your requirements helps you achieve optimal electrolyte balance in your body.
How salt works?
Like any other thing, consuming excessive salt is bad for health. Excessive sodium increases the blood pressure level and might cause heart disease. But, it helps our body when consumed in the right way. As one sweats during running, there is a loss of electrolytes and one feels exhausted due to that. When one consumes salt along with other electrolytes, it helps to restore the electrolytic balance of the body. One can manage with a sports drink for a short sprint but needs salty nuts to maintain the speed and energy level during a long run.
How to replenish sodium?
Several options are available to make sure that the sodium stays at the right level during running. One may take salted almonds, cheese, pickled cucumber, sunflower seeds, French bread and black olives. All of them are high in sodium content. Drinking coconut water is also a great option for replenishing electrolytes. It contains potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus besides being rich in sodium content. One can also sprinkle a little salt on the meals he or she is taking the night before running. Adding a pinch of salt to the smoothie before a long run also helps.
Other ways to add salt while running
You can also take sport drinks, sports gels and chews before running for restoring your electrolytic balance. Since different brands vary in the nutritional aspects, check the labels and get one that supplies at least 100 mg of sodium per serving. As they contain other nutrients besides sodium, they help you in your running spree.
Taking a shot of salt is another alternative. If you run for more than two hours, then you must have one before you start running and another halfway through the run. They come in a serving size of 0.5 gram that contains approx 200 mg of sodium. Just empty it on your hand, lick the salt, and drink water. This will energize you.
Balancing the salt
This depends on many variables like age, diet, weight, etc. One can go to a sports lab in the locality for a sweat test. The technicians can create custom hydration and salt intake plan by measuring the electrolytes you lose during an average run. But this costs money. So, you may opt for a trial and error method to frame your salt intake plan.
The bottom line
Runners must replenish their sodium levels in combination with other electrolytes. Taking salt tablets and sodium supplements are best for that. Foods that have high sodium content must also be taken along with these. One should not also experiment with new foods on the day of the run and consume the things that are regularly taken.