Athletes are always asking me, “What’s new and exciting in sports nutrition?” Well, there are so many new topics to talk about, but the most exciting for me right now is that I’ve found a company who is able to determine the electrolyte levels in my athletes’ sweat. If you are an endurance or ultra-endurance athlete who struggles with keeping hydrated because you are a “Super Sweater”, or suffer from debilitating muscle cramps, read on – here is some new information for you!
First, I should explain the function and importance of electrolytes. Simply put, electrolytes carry the electrical charges necessary for cell communication and for muscle contraction. Electrolytes are vital to every organ system, so without adequate levels, an athlete’s performance, and potentially their safety, can be compromised. Electrolyte levels can also directly affect an athlete’s hydration status, both during exercise and recovery. Five electrolytes (sodium, and to a lesser degree, potassium, magnesium, chloride and calcium) have the ability to regulate the body’s fluid balance. When sodium is low, an athlete might find it difficult to maintain their hydration – sodium helps the body retain some fluids. This is why sport drinks have added sodium in them. There are some, like Gatorade Endurance, which have significantly higher levels of sodium. Sport drinks with higher levels of sodium are typically provided at aid stations of marathons and long course triathlons, so that athletes can replenish their electrolytes during those long events. Sport science has proven over and over that endurance athletes can benefit from carbohydrates and electrolytes, and a sport drink provides both and also an athlete’s fluid needs.
Super-Sweaters, or athletes who sweat large amounts, typically sweat out large amounts of electrolytes, too – especially sodium. No matter how hard these athletes try, they can become very dehydrated. Some suffer with painful muscle cramps. Or, they can become hyponatremic (low blood levels of sodium), by drinking too much plain water, or by not ingesting adequate supplemental sodium. Their performance and health can be seriously affected.
Figuring Out Your Sweat Rate
Sports dietitians are clinically trained to assess for the underlying cause(s) of these and other sports nutrition related challenges. A sports dietitian will first assess an athlete’s Sweat Rate to determine their volume of fluid loss. It used to take time and multiple trials to determine an athlete’s electrolytes needs. Now, electrolyte levels can be quickly and easily determined by taking a simple test and then sending it to a company called Levelen (www.levelen.com). They send the athlete a patch which is placed on the arm prior to exercise. The athlete completes a workout, and then sends the patch back to the Levelen lab. The athlete receives their results with recommendations for exactly how much fluid and sodium they need to replace during exercise. A sports dietitian can then help develop strategies to make those recommendations work for the athlete’s training and competition schedules.
So for athletes who are Super-Salty-Super-Sweaters, you now have the opportunity to find a solution to this very challenging issue! Quite possibly, you too will be able to achieve fluid and electrolyte balance, which will greatly benefit your athletic performance. Check back next month for more sports nutrition info, because Training Starts at the Table!