What Do Electrolyte Supplements Really Do for Athletes? Not a Whole Lot, Study Finds

Stamina athletes functioning 150-mile races are typically necessary to have two,000 calories’ well worth of meals for every working day of their run. Amid their provides, ultramarathon runners typically have electrolyte health supplements — tablets that consist of sodium, potassium and other elements that control cell operate.

Athletes use electrolyte tablets to ward off nausea, dizziness or even a lot more dangerous aspect outcomes, this sort of as seizures or demise, that can occur with a drop in sodium stages. But new investigate implies this technique is not as beneficial to the body as we’d like to feel.

In idea, swallowing sodium restores athletes’ salt stages and assures that their body retains operating during a lengthy work out. Some brands also tout that electrolytes can stop cramping, but the scientific investigate does not again up that declare.

Monitoring the sodium stages of 260 ultramarathoners, a new review published in the Scientific Journal of Sports Drugs observed that electrolyte health supplements weren’t really the important to avoiding sodium stages from dropping way too lower. Somewhat, the amount of h2o runners eaten during an ultramarathon experienced a bigger affect on their sodium stages.

And this discovering does not just apply to runners. Other endurance athletes, this sort of as rugby gamers and rowers, have been warned of the dangers of lower electrolyte stages, as it has led to deaths though enjoying these sporting activities, suggests review co-creator Grant Lipman. But there is a caveat with runners that does not appear in line with the strategy that boosting electrolyte stages can only aid, rather than damage.

“If you seem at collapsed runners, they are a lot more possible to have [substantial electrolyte stages],” Lipman, who studies endurance education-relevant accidents at Stanford College, suggests. “Both extremes can be injurious.”

Sweat it Out

Perspiring leaves electrolytes at the rear of in the body, and if way too a lot h2o is lost, sodium stages can get way too substantial. Drinking way too a lot h2o can have the reverse outcome and dilute salt in the body, making sodium stages way too lower. Both of those situations can have severe wellness implications, and increasing awareness has encouraged some athletes to just take electrolyte health supplements or routine how a lot h2o they consume as a way to make sure they maintain the appropriate stability in their bodies.

“It’s ubiquitous — don’t get dehydrated, just take your electrolytes,” Lipman suggests. “Everyone is hyperaware of it.”

Lipman and his colleagues wished to see how runners’ sodium stages fared in very hot climate. Excessive warmth can make individuals sweat a lot more and consume a lot more h2o — but the No. 1 result in of lower electrolyte stages is way too a lot fluid ingestion, Lipman suggests.

To see how runners dealt with the warmth, the researchers gathered info prior to and after the last 50-mile leg of 4 diverse ultramarathons. Two took ninety eight runners as a result of 93-diploma-Fahrenheit Namibian and Chilean deserts, and two guided seventy six runners as a result of fifty eight-diploma Mongolia and Patagonia.

Blood samples showed that, after crossing the complete line, thirty runners were being dehydrated with substantial stages of electrolytes, though eleven runners experienced lower sodium stages. When the investigate team added in other information from the runners — how a lot they weighed prior to and after the 50-mile run, what their hydration strategy was and how properly they adhered to the routine — they observed that electrolyte health supplements didn’t help you save anybody from dangerously lower salt stages, or press their concentrations way too substantial.

Instead, the runners’ electrolyte stages were being possible dominated by the amount of h2o in their bodies. Much more of the runners who grew to become dehydrated ran in very hot deserts, and substantial warmth situations by itself produced runners nine instances a lot more possible to have substantial sodium stages.

On the other hand, researchers say those with lower electrolyte stages in the very hot races possible overcompensated for h2o loss. The very hot temperatures boosted the chance of lower electrolyte stages by a few instances.

Working to Your Have Conquer

The team also observed that those with lower sodium stages were being heavier than their competition and took lengthier to complete the race. It’s tricky to know if their slower rate aided result in the lower electrolyte stages or if it was a symptom of the issue, Lipman suggests. 

Irrespective, the review highlights how substantial temperatures put individuals at a increased possibility of these electrolyte troubles — difficulties that possible can not be solved by health supplements, Lipman suggests.

So, is there an uncomplicated way to tell what your body needs when you are performing exercises? Regretably, the indicators of dehydration and overhydration can feel the very same, as the two result in nausea and problems. The most significant symptomatic difference is that the above-hydrated are not thirsty, Lipman suggests, so it is essential to seem for that cue.

“Run smart and listen to your body,” he suggests. “Hopefully, that will get all runners to their possess complete lines.”

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