Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Electrolytes: Part 3

In the past two weeks, physiologist and randonneur Dean Furbish has been enlightening us on the use of electrolytes. This week, he tackles a couple follow-up questions.

Anonymous said...
Dean, what specific advice would you give on using electrolytes in hot weather? How many & how often?

Thanks, Mike

May 14, 2008 7:59 AM
Anonymous said...
Regarding electrolytes, I've been a fan of Eduralytes by Hammer Nutrition for their balance of several ions and minerals. At first I was taking their recommended dosage of 3 per hour or so but have found that I can get by on a lot less - like one every couple hours+. Given your argument regarding food/water/electrolyte combo for best absorption, seems like I would want to bump that up a bit for best overall energy and performance. (If I were biking that is!)
Rich B

In answering Mike’s and Rich’s questions, I shall focus on a single electrolyte product named by Rich: endurolyte capsules from Hammer Nutrition.

Mike’s question is one that every cyclist wants answered. That is, now that we have the theory behind electrolytes, how do we put it to practical use?

The answer to the question of how many endurolytes and how often they should be consumed can be found in a table in an article, Suggested amounts of Endurolytes to consider, on the Hammer Nutrition (HN) website:

It should be noted that these are only guidelines. This is because there are several factors affecting electrolyte replenishment.

Mike’s question implies that hot weather may be a factor in determining electrolyte need. He’s right. Because we sweat more in hot weather in order to cool our body, we lose more electrolytes. In this case, we need to increase electrolyte consumption.

Rich mentions that he seems to have been able to get by on fewer endurolytes than the apparent recommended dosage. This is actually true for certain conditions. HN quotes a study, which found that athletes lose less fluids and electrolytes if they are well-conditioned or if they have engaged in event-specific training in terms of both duration and intensity.

What are specific factors that are known to affect electrolyte needs? In addition to fitness level and body weight, HN states that “weather conditions, acclimatization level, and biological predisposition all greatly affect electrolyte depletion and the need for replenishment.”

As it turns out, because of all of the factors that must be considered, it is difficult to make other than general recommendations regarding electrolyte replenishment. However, one should consider increasing electrolyte consumption during an event particularly if he or she is a large athlete, less than optimally conditioned, or if it is hot.

In the end, it falls on each cyclist to try to determine personal electrolyte consumption needs. This is made easier armed with the understanding that the type of food one eats while cycling and the factors listed above should be considered. This calls for the cyclist to engage in some experimentation, preferably, during training rides.

A note of caution: as with food and water consumption, it is possible to overdo electrolyte consumption, particularly if one eats a lot of sodium (table salt). The problem is that the processes that deal with sodium overload interfere with those required for maintaining normal electrolyte balances. Moreover, the people at HN remind us that since it is not possible to absorb the same amounts of food, water, or electrolytes that one uses during an endurance event, attempting to do so is futile.

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