Water isn’t the only thing that needs to be replenished: when you sweat, you lose a lot of electrolytes, too. After a few mishaps, that’s a lesson that Seattle-based trail runner Kevin Friedrich has taken to heart. Friedrich regularly runs 50-kilometer and 50-mile races and has run classic routes like the Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim and the Zion Traverse. He says that in his early days of trail running, “I would too often miss out on salt, and that would create GI distress and nausea. You can’t just have water—you have to have a balance of salts and carbohydrates, too.”
What to drink is just as important as when to drink. During very intense workouts or in hot and humid conditions, plain H2O just won’t cut it. This is where supplementing electrolytes comes into play. Simply put, electrolytes are minerals in the bloodstream that perform key muscular functions and maintain fluid and nutrient balance in the cells. Electrolyte supplements come in many forms—powders, pills, pre-made drinks, gels, or gummies—and needs vary from person to person, so experiment during training bikes, hikes, and runs to best figure out how your body reacts under various conditions and activities to dial in on the best hydration electrolyte supplement form your body needs for optimal performance.
Scott Costley, D.O., FAAFP is a board-certified family-medicine physician and IRONMAN athlete. He says he sees many athletes suffer from gastrointestinal distress from drinking too much sugar or carbs, so they just hydrate with plain water. However, that puts them at a risk of hyponatremia—low sodium in the blood due to overhydration—especially early in the season.