Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Calibrating sodium

Getting your nutrition and electrolytes right is one of the hardest challenges in endurance events, and one of the most important for successful completion on the course.

Mentally fuzzy? Nauseous? Fingers swelling? Feel especially cold after the race? Lack of sodium is probably your culprit. Most people take in way, way, way too little sodium on marathon courses. They rely inappropriately and mistakenly on negligible sources of sodium like Gatorade and pretzels and sports gels. It's even more critical to get your sodium replenishment correct when you've already done a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike earlier in the day.

That's also why experience helps so very much in these long-distance events. You only truly know after you've completed numerous events what your own particular body needs in different weather and exertion conditions, and how much sodium and fluids and how many calories to replenish along the way.

For me, doing the two consecutive marathons in very similar weather conditions was extremely instructive. At Baltimore I took 12 Succeed caps (4092 mg sodium), which was a bit too much, based on uncomfortable urinary symptoms afterwards (um, burning pee, if you must know). At New York, under similar ~70*F weather conditions, I took 6 Succeed caps (2046 mg sodium), which was not quite enough, based on a little bit of finger swelling I experienced on course and the nausea which I had afterwards. I didn't bonk and I didn't experience substantial mental fuzziness or dizziness at either marathon, in contrast to some of my earlier attempts at the distance when I took in much lower levels of electrolytes.

That information is worth SOLID GOLD to me in tackling an Ironman next year. I have narrowed down my requirements for sodium fairly precisely to somewhere around 2500-3500 mg for every 6 hours on course, or ~500 mg per hour. That is money in the bank for me which will help ensure a successful completion of Ironman Florida in November, 2006.

I may not be able to train this body to be very fast within one year, but I can certainly do everything I can to get the nutrition part of the Ironman equation correct. It won't make me faster, but it's one of the most important things to help prevent me from slowing down or stopping. One step closer to my goal!

15 comments:

Bolder said...

I was just thinking about this same this last night... I finished my run, and was reheating left-over chinese for my recovery meal... I was drizzling some soy sauce on it, and read the label and is said 920mg of sodium per tbsp and I thought -- how do I use this information!

nancytoby said...

Hmm, unless you can stand to drink the soy sauce... :-)

I've been trying to get an actual sodium level on pickle juice, which is incredibly high in sodium and some folks drink (and I happen to even like), but Vlasic didn't return my email. :-(

Helen said...

These links might help you in your quest for pickle juice information:

http://www.cavalierdaily.com/CVArticle.asp?ID=13357&pid=910

http://www.goldenpicklejuice.com/

A few years ago the Philadelphia Eagles used pickle juice on the sidelines when they opened the season against Dallas in 109 degree heat. They demolished the Cowboys and the pickle juice became legend. Those links refer to a pickle company that has capitalized on the idea.

nancytoby said...

Thanks for the links, Helen - but I still can't find a number for sodium content on their website, and I don't think it's marketed in my area!

I really, really like Vlasic kosher dill juice, too. :-)

Shelley said...

mmmmmmm pickles....I tried using this at IMC and wanted to puke by the 1/2 way point...I obviously suck at taking in enough sodium..this is something I really need to work on as well..I'm thinking of taping one of those salt licks on my bike next year.:-D

William said...

You are very right Nancy however I find that I don't need much salt during hard rides and LSD's.

I use gatorade and PowerGels when I ride long on really hot days and I make sure I have a sodium/potssium rich breakfast via bananas and breakfast shakes.

My biggest limiter is a mini-bonk. I don't actually pass out, but I cant continue at a normal pace. I get the shakes, cold flashes, and my legs feel like silly putty. I feel the same way when I dont eat enough like yesterday. EW!

What is bonking

Flatman said...

I can just see Shelley now...wearing her cow-spotted tri suit, licking here aero bars...

Nancy, is it based on weight/height? How do you know your amount per hour?

nancytoby said...

I don't tend to need much in anything under 2-3 hours. But after that, adequate sodium replenishment seems to be more critical to me than even energy in how I feel. It was a tremendous difference once I gave myself enough.

nancytoby said...

Good question, Flatman. Without disclosing classified information concerning my body weight, I'd say most mature people should probably start around 500-1000 mg sodium per hour in hot, sweaty, working conditions and then adjust up or down from there, depending on their symptoms. Check http://nancytoby.blogspot.com/2005/04/salt-replenishment-to-prevent.html and some of the links from there.

Comm's said...

Well i am glad I can spark your blog topic for the day. i actually really appreciate all the feedback you have given me in my quest to figure this out. I used 3 enduralytes at mile 5 and 10. I should have used the ones at 15.

I think part of my puking was drinking a liter of Gatorade rather quickly driving home. If I dont dilute the stuff it messes with my GI.

Holly said...

I have been learing (thanks in large part to you...) what a huge difference watching your sodium intake during endurance events can make. I am glad I know it now..

I suspect that I have spent years with "runner stomach" because I was not balancing enough...

William said...

I am going to try to keep track for a few long efforts and see what I actually am taking in.

What is Hyponatremia.

Flo said...

Nancy, you may have solved my problem. I had a huge problem in my 1/2 marathon Sunday and I've been trying to figure out what went wrong. Sodium never crossed my mind until you wrote this. I am now on a mission to try this and see if that helps. Thanks so very much!!!

Liz said...

What are the symptoms of too much electrolytes?

nancytoby said...

It's really pretty difficult to get too much electrolytes into you when running long distances. That said, I think I overdid it at the Baltimore Marathon and the result was that it burned (fairly mildly, but definitely not normal) when I peed for an hour or two, until I drank enough water to get back to normal. Still, that beats the problems you can experience with too little: dizziness, disorientation, foot swelling and blistering, nausea, vomiting, etc.