In my last post here on the Suffer Better blog, I busted some myths related to sweat and hydration. Let’s keep this train rolling for a bit longer and review a few points related to electrolyte intake.
As you read in the previous post, the debate as to whether you need electrolytes (specifically, sodium) is a hot topic among researchers and sport scientists. You won’t find a widely agreed upon answer just yet. Kind of like there is no answer to whether chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream is more tasty. So, for the sake of argument (and education), let’s say you are a consumer of electrolyte products. No matter whether you have a preferred brand or you are new to experimenting with electrolyte formulas, there are a few facts you should be aware of:
- The electrolyte content among products varies widely. Thanks to marketing efforts, you may think you are getting a high potency product, but you need to take the time to check the label details for the actual sodium content per serving (sodium is the primary electrolyte we lose in sweat).
Here is an example of two products on the market:
- Product A costs $0.15 per capsule with each capsule containing 40 mg of sodium.
- Product B costs $0.22 per capsule with each capsule containing 215 mg of sodium.
- Although Product A is cheaper per unit price, you may actually spend more money to get the equivalent dosing of Product B (due to Product A being 5 times less the sodium potency).
- The form of the sodium (or compound) in electrolyte products varies. For example, some common forms are sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium citrate. Some products feature one of these compounds while others feature multiple sodium compounds. Who cares? Well, your gastrointestinal tract does. Depending on the form, amount, and other ingredients in the product, you may not absorb as much sodium as you think. Additionally, you may experience gut upset (sloshing, bloating, cramping) if the product isn’t being absorbed efficiently.
- How much electrolyte to consume is quite individual. Assuming you first meet criteria for needing electrolytes, the amount varies based on how much you sweat (which is influenced by many factors) and your personal sweat sodium concentration. Fortunately, these two pieces of the puzzle can be quantified relatively easily. Periodically measuring your sweat rate is fairly straightforward and can be done on your own time. Measuring your sweat sodium concentration can be done with medical grade technology in less than 30 minutes (if using the service I offer through eNRG Performance). This is a non-exercise, “one and done” type of test (since the results are largely genetically determined) and you get the results immediately… which lets us begin our electrolyte and hydration fine-tuning strategies!
Take a closer look at the products you use or the next time you are shopping… it can be eye opening!
Board Certified Sport Dietitian
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