Electrolyte replacers: Do athletes need to buy them?

Electrolyte replacers: Do athletes need to buy them?

Electrolytes are electrically charged particles, most commonly known as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They are abundant in “real foods” – including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy foods. These real foods are generally far less expensive electrolyte replacers.

The electrolyte of biggest concern is sodium. Sodium enhances fluid retention and helps keep you hydrated better than water; plain water goes in one end and out the other. Yet, sports drinks are actually low in sodium compared to what you consume in your meals—and many sodium replacers have far less sodium than you may think. People who sweat heavily might lose about 1,000 to 3,000 mg sodium in an hour of hard exercise. Here are options for replacing these sodium losses:

Commercial Sports Food Sodium Salty food Sodium
Endurolytes, 1 capsule 40 mg Dill pickle spear 350 mg
PowerBar Electrolytes 250 Beef Jerky, 1 oz 600
Gatorade, 8 oz 110 Salt, ¼ tsp 600
Gatorade Endurance, 8 oz 200 Bouillon cube, Herb-ox 1,100

The majority of non-endurance athletes have no need to buy electrolyte replacers. The people who might benefit include athletes who will be sweating in the heat for extended periods of time, such as marathoners, ultra-marathoners, triathletes, and tennis players baking on the courts during long tournaments. But even these athletes tend to consume food during the extended exercise time, so they can eat abundant electrolytes, if they thoughtfully choose their snacks and meals. That is, the football player doing double-sessions during pre-season training who has a high-sodium ham and cheese sandwich with mustard, dill pickles, and (baked) potato chips can bypass the Gatorade at lunch.

When you know you will be exercising in hot weather, choose some salted foods (i.e., sprinkle salt on scrambled eggs and oatmeal) before you exercise in the heat. Getting a hefty dose of sodium into your body before you even start to exercise has been shown to retain fluid, delay the rate at which you might become dehydrated, and enhance endurance.

For more information:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Written by Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD is an internationally respected sports nutritionist, weight coach, nutrition author, and workshop leader. She is a registered dietitian (RD) who is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She is also a certified WellCoach. Nancy specializes in nutrition for performance, life-long health, and the nutritional management of eating disorders. She counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice in the Boston area (Newton, MA). Some of her clients consider her to be their food coach, others their food therapist. Regardless, she enjoys the challenge of helping sports-active people transform their suboptimal eating habits into effective fueling plans. Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, a best-selling resource, has sold over 550,000 copies and is now in it's new fifth edition.
Website: http://www.nancyclarkrd.com

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