At XTERRA Beaver Creek, the weather during a race can range from chilly to really hot. Especially at high altitudes, trails that are pleasant all year can be brutal in the summer sun. It’s important to prepare for extreme conditions because heat not only leads to increased core temperature and dehydration but can also cause a loss of electrolytes – mainly sodium and potassium.
You know when you take off your hydration pack and it’s covered in white salt? That’s what you lost. And if you only take in water, you can develop an electrolyte imbalance as the electrolytes you do have left will be diluted. The big problem with that imbalance – called hyponatremia - is that the water you do drink might not be absorbed by your gut. Additionally, adequate sodium balance is necessary for transmitting nerve impulses and proper muscle function. Early warning signs include nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, and confusion. It’s natural at this point to drink more water, but that only increases the problem by further diluting electrolytes.
“Athletes are typically healthy eaters,” said XTERRA Texas Trail Run Regional Champ and Duathlon Champ, Trisha Stavinoha, a Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics (CSSD) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), who recently retired from the U.S. Army. “Athletes know that what they eat translates to their performance, whether it’s good or bad. We are told that salt is bad and leads to high blood pressure, but in reality, salt is composed of two critical electrolytes – sodium and chloride, which are required daily for normal metabolism and hydration.”
Stavinoha continued...“In the Army, we have separate recommendations for our military tactical athletes, who have higher sodium needs because they lose more from sweat. The military dietary reference intake is 3,600 mg per day for women and 5,000 mg per day for men. Athletes who participate in endurance events would be best served to consume this amount also. Many athletes restrict salt during the week in an effort to be healthy, but then claim to lose a lot of salt in their sweat and consume a lot of salt sticks to maintain sodium balance during a race.”
Stavinoha adds that many athletes who consume a low-salt diet normally and then consume salt during a race still end up cramping and have a difficult time catching up.
“They would probably need less salt during the race if they met their sodium needs every day throughout the week.”
Too much salt during a race without matching fluid can also dehydrate the body. Sodium concentration in sweat ranges from 460 mg to in rare cases 1,800 mg per liter.
For training hydration, Stavinoha recommends:
- Look for a beverage that provides 460-800 mg per liter of sodium (115-200 mg per 8 ounces).
- Aim for ½ to 1 ounce of fluid per pound of body weight daily.
- Athletes training for endurance sports should consume 3,000-5,000 mg sodium daily during the hotter months.
- Non-athletes should consume less sodium than athletes
Learn more about the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run