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Sodium for Runners: How Much is Enough?

Update from Jan 29, 2015: I listened to a fantastic podcast episode from trailrunnernation.com titled “Is Supplementary Salt Needed in a Race?” Coach Andy DuBois presents the latest research on the topic of sodium consumption, but also gets into SO much more. I learned that being a “salty sweater” means that I have an excess of sodium in my body, mostly due to diet, that the body eliminates via sweat. The podcast is chock-full of fascinating answers to some of these questions, so check it out. Original post follows below …

  • Is there a correlation between cramping and low salt consumption?
  • The placebo affect?
  • Will rinsing your mouth with a brine solution do anything?
  • What can we do to avoid cramping?

Sodium is important in races several hours in length or longer. I’m a salty sweater, so this research into optimal sodium for runners was worth doing for me. When your sodium levels get low (called hyponatremia), you can get nauseous, disoriented and experience muscle cramping. I’ve been getting emails from Cayuga Medical Center leading up to the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, and in a recent message the topic of cramping came up. Here’s the quote that led to my writing this post:

If you think you might benefit from extra sodium to help with muscle cramping: aim for about 500 to 1,000 mg of sodium per hour of exercise.

— Cindy Milner, MSEd, RDN, CSSD, CDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian, Cayuga Center for Healthy Living

Cindy suggests drinks, gels and chews that contain sodium, but as you can see below, the amount definitely varies. Salt tabs are a good option, but don’t overdo it with them.

Salty foods (a staple of ultra aid stations) such as broth, pretzels, jerky, salted potatoes, crackers and pickle juice are also options. Lastly, she suggests trying these suggestions out in training first. Trying something new on race day is not likely to work out in your favor!

Sodium for Runners: How the Products Stack Up

In order of increasing sodium per serving, here’s a sampling of what’s out there on the market. Do you have a go-to source for sodium not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments below.

Sodium for Runners Visualized: 500 to 1,000 mg per hour

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  1. Really informative post Scott! I am a salty sweater as well but don’t really worry about getting enough salt while I’m running because well, I put tons of salt on my food. I hope that doesn’t catch up with me some day…

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