Monday, February 21, 2011

Electrolytes and Hydration During Long Runs

I apologize for not posting anything for a few days.  Things got really busy after the Mercedes Marathon and now my son is off for a week, skiing.


I have had a request to review electrolytes and Hydration. I am taking a lot of this directly from the Run For Kids Challenge web site, "How to run the Race" page.

On of the biggest problems ultrarunners have is staying fueled and hydrated during hours of running.  The longer the race the harder this becomes.  Your are burning calories faster than you can replace them and your body does not absorb water as fast as you are loosing it.  It is critical to begin drinking a lot of liquid (NO ALCOHOL) several days prior to the race.  The day before the race drink even more.  I drink so much water the day before a race I end up hopping out of bed every 2 hours to run the the bathroom.  By drinking so much water before the race you will be fully hydrated a the start.

One of the major causes of stomach distress during a run is too much in you stomach.  If you are drinking a lot, as you are supposed to, the "too much" will likely be water.  So how do you keep from drinking too much water.  Usually the issue is not drinking too much water,  but that the water you do drink is not being absorbed fast enough.  If you are not taking in enough electrolytes with the water, the water will not be absorbed fast enough and will start sloshing around in there.  That is when you start feeling really sick at you stomach.

There are many good products available that will help solve this problem and they are all spelled "electrolytes."  Start at a local bike or triathlon shop like Cahaba Cycle and Homewood Cycle here in Birmingham.  They carry a good assortment of electrolytes and can tell you about each one.  I am now using one called "NUUN" tablets.  You simply drop one tablet in your water bottle each time you refill it.  They are great because you don't have to keep up with when you need to take the next tablet.  There are several other types of tablets and capsules available.  One popular product is called "Salt Stick" capsules and I always carry a few of them with me in every run and race as a backup.  Pick out a few and start using them in your training and see what you like best.  

After several hours of running I find it hard to swallow capsules.  I used Enlyten strips for a couple of years and really liked them.  They are like breath strips and come in a very small cassette.  You put one strip between your cheek and gums and let it dissolve.  Each one lasts about 45 minutes.  When one is gone, put in another.  In my early ultrarunning I used them almost exclusively.  They work great but have one major drawback. The Enlyten strips actually burn the tissue in your mouth after hours of continuous use.  The longer you used them the worse the damage was so I quit using them.  I do still carry a pack of Enlyten strips with me.  If you do start to get a little "queasy" just eat a couple, like candy, and within minutes you are fine. 

Another product I always carry, training and racing, is Enervit tablets. They come in a pack of 12 and are the best thing for cramps I have ever used.  I began using them several years ago while training for and riding some difficult  bike rides in the southeast like Six Gap in North Georgia and The Assault on Mt. Mitchell. I eat one tablet as soon as you begin to feel twinges in my leg muscles and I never get a cramp.  It just goes away.  Most bike shops carry Enervit products but not the tablets for some reason.  That is why I have the link to Enervit Tablets to an Amazon.com site.  The last time I ordered them, that was the only place I could find them.

My rules for staying hydrated:
1.  Drink a lot of water for several days before the race.
2.  Drink even more water the day before.
3.  No Alcohol for at least 2 or 3 days prior to the race.
4.  Do all training runs using electrolyte supplements.  
     (Follow the directions for each product)
5.  Use electrolytes before and during the race.
The NUUN tablets I use mix at a ratio of one tablet to 16 oz of water.  I don't like to carry any more weight than necessary.  If I know the aid stations are no more than 4 or 5 miles apart, I break the tablets in half or fourths before the race and put them in a zip-lock baggy.  As I come to the aid station I check to see how much water I have and figure how much I will need to reach the next AS.  I remove the lid from the bottle as I approach the aid station.  I will add either 4 or 8 oz (I mark 4,8,12 and 16 oz on the bottle for reference) and drop in a 1/4 or 1/2 tablet, put on the top and head out.  I don't like to waste time at aid stations!  I have been using them for over a year now and they work great.  Now, I don't even try anything else.



The following is the nutritional information for a serving of Nuun based on one tablet dissolved in 16oz (500ml) of water. There are under 8 calories per Nuun tab. Check it out:
Active Ingredientslevel (mg)
Sodium (carbonates)360.0
Potassium (bicarbonate) 100.0
Calcium (carbonate) 12.5
Magnesium (sulfate) 25.0
Vitamin C37.5
Vitamin B2500mcg
Other ingredients: citric acid, sorbitol, sodium carbonate, natural colors flavors, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, polyethylene glycol, magnesium sulfate, sodium benzoate, calcium carbonate, acesulfame potassium, riboflavin-5-phosphate.

Soon I will have more posts on running related injuries.

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