Mar 14, 2022

Electrolytes for Runners Guide: Key to Staying Hydrated

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While electrolytes for runners are critical to performance, many of the sports drinks on the market today are laden with sugar, thereby making them a less-than-ideal choice for staying hydrated, as sugar can contribute to dehydration.

However, water (while great) is also not the best possible option, as electrolytes for runners and other athletes are essential for optimizing performance. As runners sweat, they are losing a variety of electrolytes, which water alone cannot replace.

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Therefore, to help athletes stay hydrated and perform better for longer, check out this guide to electrolytes for runners.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals found in blood that help the body to govern balances of fluids, regulate muscle contractions and regulate hormones, and they serve a vital role in managing blood pressure, minimizing inflammation and helping with a variety of other vital processes.

When it comes to electrolytes, most folks are familiar with “the big three,” which are sodium, potassium and magnesium. However, there are other electrolytes critical for overall health and performance, including:

  • Bicarbonate
  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphate

Achieving the right balance of electrolytes is critical for optimal output. Given that an adult’s body is roughly 60 percent water, electrolytes are present in nearly every cell in your body.

Electrolytes are consumed through what a person eats and drinks, and it is possible to get too many electrolytes. However, the body is quite adept at filtering out excess electrolytes through urine. Moreover, electrolytes are also lost through sweat as well.

Naturally, the amount of electrolytes lost while exercising varies from person to person and from session to session. Moreover, calculating the precise amount of electrolytes that need to be replenished can be rather complex (this will be covered shortly).

Generally speaking, training sessions limited to 30 minutes or under don’t typically require the use of an electrolyte supplement. However, if you work out for more than 30 minutes at a time on a regular basis, you will probably want to purchase an electrolyte powder to mix into your water.

How to Replace Electrolytes

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of sports drinks on the market today. However, most of these beverages are loaded with simple sugar or artificial sweeteners.

wide variety of sports drinks

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These are not the best option for replacing electrolytes, as sugar can be dehydrating and is generally something that should be consumed in small quantities.

Getting an ideal source of electrolytes for runners is going to require passing over the mainstream brands of sport drink and instead opting to pick up some hydration pills or another form of electrolyte supplement that isn’t infused with as much sugar as a typical can of soda.

Additionally, runners will also want to consume a diet high in foods that contain electrolytes, as they should not only be consumed through fluids.

However, this raises the question:

How many electrolytes should I be consuming?

How to Establish Electrolyte Requirements

While there are ways to determine how much water to consume, establishing the needs of electrolytes for runners is much more complicated, as this cannot be done by weighing one’s self, judging by the color of urine or similarly unscientific methods.

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To determine your electrolyte requirements after a run you will need to:

  • Measure total calories burned: For most runners, this is roughly 120 calories per mile.
  • Calculate percent of calories from fat and carbs: Calculating percent of calories burned from fat and carbohydrates is a complex calculation that will take you down its own rabbit hole. However, it is necessary if you wish to establish your exact electrolyte needs. Find the number of grams of fat and carbs lost.
  • Subtract: Next, subtract the number of grams and carbs burned during your session from the total amount of weight lost during the workout. The difference is how much sweat was lost and electrolytes that should be replenished.

While this process can be a bit complex and tedious, if you are training to run a marathon or for any other sort of competition, establishing your electrolyte replenishment needs is critical to achieving peak performance.

street view of marathon runners

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Understanding Electrolytes for Runners

Like any kind of athlete, runners lose a lot of electrolytes through their sweat. Understanding their role in performance and replenishing what is lost is critical for optimal outcomes.

Use this guide to determine how to properly refuel your electrolyte stores.

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