Like King Lear…

I fail to appreciate salt.

Firstly, all the cells of our food contain approximately the same salt concentration as that in the cells of our body. Why should we need to eat more salt than that?

Secondly, my mother had (still has) high blood pressure and I grew up in a house where she added very little extra salt to food. So I became used to it and rarely add salt when I cook either.

Yet after about 5 hours of running (more or less), or 10 hours of bike riding, I become nauseous. I don’t eat enough after that and I don’t run as well as I should. I just assumed that the body got weird after much running, but Mike told me this was because I didn’t take in enough electrolytes.

Apparently there aren’t enough in gels.

OK. When I think about that, it makes sense. A gel is basically sugar and water; it isn’t normal food made of (once) living cells. It would not contain the right amount of salt unless someone put it there.

Thinking back, I realize that on the first ultra I ran I did take salt tablets. I took one every hour and a half and I finished feeling fine (of course it was only a 50K (well, 60K, really) and I was finished in 6 hours and the weather was cool).

A year later I did the same race on a swelteringly hot day, and I forgot to take salt tablets until about 4 hours into the race. When I took one after that I felt really horrible. I told myself I reacted badly to salt tablets. And I didn’t take them after that.

So that was probably silly. Salt when already dehydrated on a hot day might cause all kinds of problems. Things might have been better if I had taken one earlier. And I did feel better after an hour or so, so even in this case the salt might have helped… eventually.

Tuesday Mike gave me a five and a half hour run, but I extended it to 7 because I wanted to take salt and see what happened. I planned to take a salt tablet (100mg sodium) every hour and a half, and I did up until 4.5 hours when I realized I was running low on water and it was still a way to my stash, so I delayed it until I got to my water.

After about 7 hours I started to feel nauseous again.

That was better than some races… but not good enough. And there were so many variables. Had the salt helped any? It wasn’t that hot. I wasn’t racing so maybe wasn’t pushing as hard (though I was supposed to be). So that might also explain why it took longer to reach nausea. On the other hand maybe I screwed up by delaying my third tablet, perhaps I’d have been fine if I had been able to take it earlier?

When I talked to Mike again, he said most people took 3 tablets an hour. Gleep. But sure enough, when I read the side of the bottle it recommended “1-3 tablets in hot weather”. But Mike said I should not jump to that level (good) as I wasn’t used to it (and it was now too late to train for it.

So I think I may try one tablet an hour in the race…


Actually I took 2 tablets (200mg) an hour, and in the next race 4 tablets.

The NY Times has an interesting article claiming that there has never been any good data that restricting salt in the diet is helpful.

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