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Salt, Sugar, Sport Drink Needs For Athletes


As a running coach and personal trainer, one of the most common questions that I get asked is about electrolytes, hydration, and fueling for runs and fitness? Lucky for you, I have an expert, Kelli Shallal, RDN + CPT, on hand to answer that very question, as well as provide tips and tricks for getting the right amount of salt in for your fitness levels. She is also saving my butt as I get settled into my new job!

Have you entered my giveaways yet? I am giving away a Moto 360 Sport Watch (does WAY more than just track your steps!) and Smartypants Vitamins Gummies!

Hi there! I’m Kelli Shallal, a Phoenix Arizona based Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer.  I blog over at Hungry Hobby, a healthy living blog emphasizing simple nutrition tips, healthy recipes, quick workouts, and travel.  The weather is starting it’s slow temperature climb (some places faster than others- it’s already 85 here) and as it heats up hydration and proper fueling becomes even more crucial, so today I’m here to discuss the three training  S words: salt, sugar, and sports drinks! 

Kelli of Hungry Hobby is here talking about how much salt athletes really need! Need to know if you are marathon training or a runner. @suzlyfe


How Much Salt do You Need?

Hydration is one of the trickiest topics to cover with clients because it is so individualized.  However, we can always start with a baseline.  The average loss of sodium in a typical individual is estimated to be 1 gram per 1 Liter of sweat, which equates to:

  • Sedentary (24hours)- .5-3grams
  • 30 minutes of low intensity – 0-0.5grams
  • moderate intensity (60 minutes)- 0.5-1.5grams
  • high intensity  (60-120minutes) – 1-3grams
  • moderate intensity (2-8+ hours) – 1-16grams
  • low intensity (2-12+ hours) – 1-12grams
Kelli of Hungry Hobby is here talking about how much salt athletes really need! @suzlyfe

If you are dog, you can get your sweat in this way.

To figure out what your needs are you need to figure out how much fluid loss you incur during a typical sweat session, the best way to do this is to weigh yourself before and after.  Doing this regularly, especially as the seasons change the temperature and humidity can help you stay on top of it. Make sure to add in any liquid you consumed during the exercise, for example:

Say you weighed 100lbs, went for a run and drank 1 liter of water (1liter = 2lbs) and came back 97lbs.  Since 1 liter =2lbs we know you actually lost 5lbs during your run in fluid.  For every pound lost you need about 0.5grams of sodium, therefore we need to add an additional 1.5 liters and replace 1.5grams of sodium during and after the run in addition to your baseline requirements of at least 1.5g per day.  To put that in perspective 2.3grams = 1tsp of salt. 

Athletes and Sugar: How Much is Too Much?

We hear a lot about how sugar leads to crashes, yet rely on many gels, gummies, etc for fuel.  Glycemic Index (GI) is a way to rank foods according to the blood glucose response after certain foods are consumed.  Foods with a low GI cause a slower, sustained release of glucose to the blood, whereas foods with a high GI cause a rapid, short-lived increase in blood glucose. 

Kelli of Hungry Hobby is here talking about how much salt athletes really need! Need to know if you are marathon training or a runner. @suzlyfe

Going out for a long run? Make sure that you have the right nutrition and hydration on you!

Low GI foods such as beans and yams, typically contain less simple sugar and more protein and/or fiber.  They are recommended during the day and 2 hours before exercise to promote stable blood sugar and restore glycogen stores, the storage form of sugar in our body.  During exercise we rely more on high GI foods, such as gels, gummies, and sports drinks to provide immediate energy to burn through and replenish glycogen stores.  Because the blood sugar spikes quickly and the sugar is utilized quickly, we do risk crashing if we don’t refuel before glycogen stores are depleted (usually between 1500-2000 calories worth). 

In order to prevent the crash you have to practice timing just as much as you train for any event.  There are also a few product becoming available on the market that provide a slower release of energy like a superstarch, or products designed to be ingested slowly that are worth a shot if your someone that isn’t digging their current fueling routine. 

Are Sport Drinks Effective?

While sports drinks claim to do it all, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • Electrolytes OR carbohydrates enhance absorption of fluid, but there is not additional benefit from having both.
  • No additional performance has been demonstrated from use of electrolyte/carbohydrate beverages for under an hour of exercise. 
  • Protein during exercise may help with recovery but won’t help with performance, just as effective after exercise within 30 minutes for recovery. 
  • Unless it’s a superstarch be wary of claims of “long lasting energy” and “steady blood sugar” as they haven’t been validated.
  • May cause GI upset from composition of nutrients or preservatives/chemicals/dyes in the product. 
Kelli of Hungry Hobby is here talking about how much salt athletes really need! Need to know if you are marathon training or a runner. @suzlyfe

Finish every run this happy!

Bonus Hydration Tips:

  • Get used to a comfortable fullness of liquid
  • Practice drinking during training
  • Carry liquid with you
  • Carry money to replace drinks if needed (one time I dropped my water bottle in the canal people, this back up plan is real.)

Thanks for letting me photo bomb Susie’s blog today!  I’d love to hear what some of fueling favorites are, leave a comment below! My (Kelli) current personal favorite is the superstarch by Generation UCAN mixed with Branch Chain Amino Acids. 

Thank you so much, Kelli! And girlfriend is not only an RDN and CPT, but she also lives in Phoenix, so she KNOWS what she is talking about when it comes to hydration! I would say that my personal favorite on the run fueling favorite is Sport Beans. I love those darn things. Be sure to check out my post on her blog on Thursday as part of Running Coaches Corner!

Answers to how much sugar, salt, and electrolytes athletes need! @hungryhobby #runchat #fitfluential Click To Tweet

Be sure to leave any questions for Kelli in the comments!

Tell me your most hilarious fueling fail (in the gym or on a run)! I used to be terrified of any gels after hearing horror stories about them. So I waited and waited and waited and bonked so hard that I could hardly even run home!

Linking up with Lora, Debbie, and Rachel for Running Coaches Corner. 

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