Marathon Training 101: Sodium Intake

Marathon Training 101: Sodium Intake

What is Sodium?

Sodium is a crucial mineral that is needed to regulate energy pathways and keep muscles functioning at optimal levels. There is no recommended amount to eat on a daily basis, but a suggested intake is about 1,500mg or ¾ teaspoons. Sodium is found in most foods eaten in the Standard American Diet; in fact, the average American eats 3,330-4,200mg or 1.5-2 teaspoons of sodium per day, well above recommended levels.

Most people will meet their sodium requirements from their diet and do not need to focus on repletion and supplementation; however, athletes are a different story. Water intake, sweat rate, altitude and duration of exercise can influence the sodium levels and performance of an athlete.

Drinking Excessive Water

Overhydration or hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the body) has become more prevalent among marathon runners. An antiquated theory involved consuming large quantities of water right before a run to over-hydrate the body. However, this technique dilutes levels of sodium in the body, bringing them to dangerously low levels. Combine that with extended running and your body will start to shut down.

Hydration Strategies

Be smart with your hydration strategies. Follow our previous hydration tips and listen to your body. If you are involved in endurance running or marathon training, including a sport drink, gels or chews with added sodium can help replenish sodium and electrolyte levels.

Sodium pills or supplementation is not generally recommended unless an athlete is partaking in ultra endurance events, or omething lasting over 8-12 hours. Temperature, altitude and exertion can all impact the amount of sodium an athlete loses, so it's important to experiment in training with different hydrating and fueling techniques.

Controling your sodium levels can also help regulate thirst cues and increases the amount of water and carbohydrates absorbed in the small intestines, improving overall hydration and recovery. Include some saltier snacks in your diet, like pickles, canned soups, tomato juice, canned chili, or salted pretzels. You may even want to add a pinch of salt or pickle juice to your favorite Blast recipe (disclaimer: I have not tried this and cannot vouch for taste!)

Listen to Your Body

You can assess your sweat rate by observing your clothing and skin after a long run. Are there white marks on your clothing? Do you notice a white residue on your skin? These are all indicators you have lost noticeable amounts of sodium and should focus on eating something with a little extra salt.

Remember to monitor urine color, it should always be a pale yellow, not clear color. Check out this chart to help assess hydration status.

Taking the time to understand your sweat rate, staying adequately hydrated and listening to your body can help you become a stronger athlete. While remaining hydrated, it's important to remember that you can overdo it with fluids. Overhydration, or hyponatremia, results when excess fluid is consumed above what the body can process. Hydrate responsibility, fuel properly and listen to your body. With these tips, you are on your way to becoming a stronger and healthier athlete!

Check out this Salty Sweet Blast recipe to get a little extra sodium into your diet after a long workout.

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

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