Monday, February 9, 2015

Sodium supplementation for endurance athletes

950, 921, 622...SAT scores?  I sure hope not!  What do these numbers mean?  Well, I will explain but let me first provide a bit of background.

Sodium supplementation for endurance athletes.  Sure, we know we need to consume sodium during training and competition but how much?  Back in the days (really, just until last week), I used to fathom a guess to this question.  I mean, I think I have a very accurate guesstimate that I could provide athletes based on my decades of experience and my own training and competition experience.  Here's how I did it...

Athlete comes in, we chat about their training, duration, environment and I ask them if they are a salty sweater.  "I think so", "I have no idea" or "definitely" were the typical responses.  How did they know this?  They were judging this based on the fact of white salt stains on their body or clothing.  More white salt stains = salty sweater.  Great!  Now, I give you the recommendation of 300-1500 milligrams of sodium per hour and you are on your way!  Seriously, that is the normal recommendation of sodium needs per hour but how do we know where you may fall in that range?  Guessing game along with trial and error.

I will use myself as an example.  I am a heavy sweater for sure.  Doesn't matter if I am in Colorado, Florida, New York or Hawaii.  I sweat a lot.  Now, conventional wisdom states that if you are a heavy sweater, you will lose more sodium (because sodium is the main electrolyte lost in sweat).  Thus, you should supplement with more sodium.  The thought process makes sense, except of course that you must also consider an athlete's daily nutrition plan (high or low sodium)...more on that in another blog post.

Back to Coach Bob, the athlete.  I sweat a lot thus I will need more sodium during training due to higher sodium losses.  Made sense to me and I really didn't question it (too) much.  However, since writing my e-book on Sodium Loading Protocol for Endurance Athletes, I really got thinking about this whole sodium supplementation, the "why's and how's" and if there was a better way to improve the accuracy of my recommendations.

There have been sweat patches and whole body bag methods for analyzing sodium concentration lost in sweat but I have never been too keen on those from a practical perspective.  Then, last year, I stumbled upon a method that tests the concentration of sodium lost in sweat in a non-invasive approach and without having to exercise (I know, it sounds too good to be true).  I did some research, spoke with the exercise physiologist who sells the machine and was convinced that this was a valid piece of equipment to add to the eNRG performance arsenal to help athletes better understand their bodies and their nutritional needs.

Back to the numbers...950, 921, 622.  The eNRG performance Sports Dietitians tested their sweat sodium concentrations (the numbers are milligrams of sodium lost per liter of sweat) and we found out some very, very interesting stuff.  Remember me, the heavy sweater?  Well of course, I am thinking that my sweat sodium concentration is through the roof thus I would always supplement with around 1000-1200 mg/sodium/hour of training and racing.  However, my number was actually 622.  I had the lowest sweat sodium concentration among my colleagues.

How could that be?  That's not right...or is it?  My body sweats a lot in trying to stay cool.  Interestingly, my body is extremely efficient in conserving sodium thus I do not need to supplement with a great deal during training.  There could be many combinations of this.  For example, my colleague Paige's number was 921 yet she reported to be a low to moderate sweater but loses far more sodium than I do.

Much of the sweat sodium concentration is based on genetics.  My main question, which there is no data for yet, is how changing a nutrition plan will effect this number.  eNRG performance will be doing this field research soon but in the meantime, we are now offering personalized sweat sodium concentration testing for athletes.  Should you get it?  Yes.  Every single athlete should have this measured because chances are that you, much like me, are not accurate in guessing how much sodium you need to take in during exercise.

The test appointment is 1 hour with an eNRG performance Sports Dietitian.  You do not have to exercise during the test and you will receive a consult with one of us as well as your individual sodium needs per hour of training.  Couldn't be any easier.

To sign up for this service, click HERE.

Until next time...

Coach Bob (a much happier Sports Dietitian now that he knows he doesn't have to consume as much sodium during exercise any longer...)