Marathon runners are endurance athletes who experience a significant amount of sweat losses while running. Sweat consists of both water and salts. Also known as electrolytes, these salts are necessary to maintain balance in the body’s cells. This is why endurance athletes need not only to replace lost water, but also electrolytes lost while sweating. To accomplish this, create a hydration plan before, during and after your marathon.
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Just as you prepare for the marathon by running frequently, you can prepare for electrolyte losses. Reduce your sodium sensitivity, reducing your overall sodium intake in your daily diet. This helps your body to acclimate to less sodium. Another method is to train in hot temperatures, which helps your body better adjust to the heat, helping you to sweat less.
When running a marathon, you must create an electrolyte replacement strategy. A variety of electrolyte replacement options is available. Examples include sports drinks, which contain both electrolytes and water to prevent dehydration. Gels also are available in small pouches and contain a concentrated amount of electrolytes. Jelly beans known as sports beans also can be used for electrolyte replacement. You can eat nutrition bars and sodium-containing foods such as pretzels, bananas and animal crackers. When choosing the best electrolyte replacement for you, consider portability and what will be easiest for you to carry with you on race day.
Marathon runners and training coaches Gary and Ellen Bloome recommend drinking one cup of an electrolyte-containing drink every 30 minutes during competition. Train with your electrolyte replacement drink of choice in order to ensure it will be sufficient to replace your losses. If you utilize electrolyte or carbohydrate-containing gel packs, the Bloomes suggest consuming one every four to six miles. If you utilize food or bars to replace electrolytes, break these into small pieces and consume some every 20 to 30 minutes.
If you are not taking in enough electrolytes during a marathon, your body will work to compensate for lost salts for some time. However, if your blood sodium dips below the appropriate level for your body, you may experience adverse symptoms. These include headache, muscle cramping or weakness, according to Ultra Cycling, a website dedicated to endurance athletes. You also may feel disoriented. These symptoms can be mistaken for typical occurrences that accompany marathon running. However, it’s important that you listen to your body and be aware of these symptoms and how they can be related to electrolyte losses.