What’s the deal with salt, sodium, & electrolytes?

After my first time running in the rain yesterday, I felt like I was sweatier than after a normal (dry) 45 minute run. Maybe I did sweat more, maybe I was just covered in sweat AND rain (this was the likely case). Regardless, I had a strange craving for salt at dinnertime, which is strange because I HATE salt. I didn’t think much of it until I saw this article on Active.com today called Electrolytes 101.

So what’s the deal with electrolytes? Some of the more familiar electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Sodium is the electrolyte lost in the highest concentration in sweat.

Do I need to consume extra electrolytes after a workout? You are unlikely to need extra electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat unless you’re exercising for more than 4 hours. In that case, salty recovery snacks could be a smart choice—particularly if you are prone to muscle cramps. Potassium deficiency is unlikely to occur in athletes because the body contains much more potassium than even a marathoner might lose during a hot, sweaty race.

Do I need to replace my sodium? The concentration of sodium in your blood actually increases during exercise because you lose proportionately more water than sodium. Hence, your first need is to replace the fluid. You can easily replace the 800 mg sodium lost in two pounds of sweat during a hard hour-long workout by enjoying a recovery snack of chocolate milk and a bagel with peanut butter. Many tired athletes report the salt helps revive them so they feel better. Plus, it helps with rehydration because it holds water in your body.

After extended sweaty exercise, you should plan to replace sodium if:

  1. you are craving salt, and
  2. you are covered with a layer of salt on your skin.

Will a sports drink help? If you are tempted to replace sodium losses with commercial sports foods and fluids, note that most of these engineered products are relatively poor sources of sodium.

Sodium in Popular Recovery Foods

Food Sodium (mg)
Chicken noodle soup, 1 can Campbell’s 2,350
Pizza, 1 small Domino’s cheese 2,330
Ramen noodles, Maruchan, 1 packet 1,580
Spaghetti sauce, 1 cup Ragu 1,160
Boullion, 1 cube Herb-Ox Chicken 1,100
Salt, 1 small packet 590
Pretzels, 1 oz (30 g) Rold Gold thins 560
Bagel, 1 Thomas’ New York style (3.7 oz) 540
V-8 Juice, 8 ounces 480
American cheese, 1 slice Kraft 250
SaltStick capsule, 1 215
Cheerios, 1 cup multigrain 200
Yogurt, 6 oz Stonyfield Farms vanilla 115
Bread, 1 slice Pepperidge Farm hearty slices 190
Saltine crackers, 5 180
Potato chips, 20 Lay’s 180
Chocolate milk, Nesquik, 8 oz 150
Gatorade, 8 ounces 110
Endurolytes (electrolytes), 1 capsule 100
Powerade, 8 ounces 70
Beer, 12 ounce can 15
Coke, 12 ounce can 10
Orange juice, 8 ounces 5
Potential loss in a two-hour workout 1,000-2,000

So I guess go by how your body feels and how long and sweaty your workout was.
Read the entire Electrolytes 101 article at Active.com.

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