If there is one thing that goes in your mouth that could single-handedly balance your total nutrition program while racing, it could be your electrolyte tablets. I’m not talking about the electrolytes in your sports drink or gel packets; these don’t provide the quantity of electrolytes needed to keep you fully in balance in longer events and in extreme conditions. I’m referring to electrolyte tablets that include a combination of sodium and potassium (not salt tablets).
A while back I was trotting along in a 100K trail race in the Marin Headlands and engaging in a likely ultra running activity—chatting. Yet this particular chatting experience was unique in that I was actually being “outchatted” by a gentleman who worked in a think tank for cancer research in Texas.
He told me about recent breakthroughs with his work, his running, and his predisposition for memorizing certain categories of things in life—like music and wine. I passed the time trying to baffle his photographic memory by throwing down random questions like: “Where is the appellation for the grapes used in David Bruce’s award-winning 1997 Pinot Noir?” Or “Who wrote the theme song for Gilligan’s Island?” Despite my efforts, I couldn’t stump him.
Then all of a sudden he became quiet. I glanced over to notice he was white as a sheet and laboring. The coach in me had been noticing out of the corner of my eye that he had been eating and drinking adequately the last few hours, so I didn’t suspect a calorie or water bonk. I asked him how he was feeling and he confirmed, with a few expletives, my observations.
I swung my fanny pack around and pulled out my running “drug bag.” I grabbed three electrolyte tablets, and as we jogged along I extended my hand, “Here, take these.” Without so much as a grunt, he snatched the tablets and downed them with a swig of water. For a gentleman of such refined intellectual property, he didn’t so much as ask me what I was pushing.
A half hour later, he caught back up to me. “Man, what did you give me back there? I feel great!” After commenting on how I thought it was a bit odd that he unquestionably took unknown tablets from a complete stranger, I offered him further information on the least touted yet one of the most critical ingredients to successful endurance racing—electrolytes.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, as I don’t know of any specific research that will back up a personal observation. As with my Marin Headlands running buddy, I have noticed that taking electrolyte tablets in really long events can be the duct tape that holds the blood sugar-hydration scale at a balance point. There are obviously many variables in keeping this coveted race balance, but I have noticed that if some calories and fluids are present, the electrolytes can help pull them into balance to keep you moving forward adequately.
My Marin running companion went on to beat me in the race while becoming another electrolyte convert. We kept in touch—he to tell me how this slight change in his race fuel plan continued to positively affect other races down the road. And I to reassure him that I was continue to practice electrolyte pushing in my coaching and racing.