THE MYTH OF ELECTROLYTE SUPPLEMENTS
Endurance events have increased in popularity over the last decade. However, as more and more athletes participate in these types of competitions, the risk of sodium imbalance during and after races should be given more attention.
Many athletes turn to electrolyte supplements to stay hydrated and improve performance. Yet a recent study involving ultra-marathoners, published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, reports that popular electrolyte supplements do not necessarily protect against hypernatremia, an increase in sodium levels, which is associated with dehydration. Moreover, drinking too much of them may contribute to an extreme decrease in sodium levels, a condition known as exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). EAH is far more likely to result in serious complications, even death.
Moreover, the risk for sodium imbalances (both hyper and hyponatremia) and associated race-induced illnesses is particularly high if the race is taking place in hot climate and among those who have not properly trained for the event, who were heavy at the time of the event, and/or those who took longer to complete the event that majority of the other participants.
Along with proper training and conditioning, the study suggests that the best protection against dehydration or over-hydrations is to drink during the race only when you feel thirsty, not at pre-set regular intervals, which can dangerously dilute the body’s salt levels and lead to EAH.