Sweat & Electrolytes – Understanding how to manage it

By: Dr. Gary Huber

Posted 08/01/2022

Sweat is key for cooling the body during exercise but if not understood or if improperly managed it will erode your performance over time. Fortunately, there are a host of great products out there that offer strong support. Please don’t even think about Gatorade and Powerade. These are NOT sports drinks. These are over-marketed jokes made by Pepsi and Coke to sell you more sugar. Once you understand the science you will see what I am speaking of.

As we sweat we lose important minerals like sodium and magnesium and if we lose too much then our aerobic potential begins to tank. That's why good athletes that excel at the end of the race or are still lively in the fourth quarter are gaining their advantage by replacing sodium and minerals. Even after the game or race they understand that they need to exert effort to replace the loss during their recovery time to be ready for tomorrows effort.

How does your body sweat?

Typical sweat rates, exercising in heat, will be 1 to 1.5 liters per hour (35 to 50 ounces). The average concentration of sodium in sweat is 1150 mg per liter.  As I lose salt (sodium) my aerobic potential begins to drop so it is critical to replace sodium in a prolonged workout, bike ride or soccer game. If you are only exercising for an hour or less then this is not an issue. If you cramp up during exercise it's a good bet that your sodium has gotten too low.

 

 

So during an endurance effort, I am looking to replace at least 500mg of sodium per hour depending on how well this amount of salt is tolerated. Gatorade can’t even come close to meeting this need so it’s not even in the running. The rest of the options listed in the table below each have their Pros and Cons as stated. My personal favorites are Catalyte and Nema Base. I like the flexibility of having a powder (Catalyte) to add to water but also having a tablet (Nema Base) that I can simply grab without fussing with water during my busy day or even on the bike during periods of higher sweat rates.

LMNT – all mineral, low carb, so would need to add a glucose or carb source.

  • PROS:  high sodium content and variety of flavors.
  • CONS:  no carb content and a high potassium content that might be a problem for some people. Expensive.

Nema Base – sodium level is high plus delivers bicarb. Need a carb source to go with it.

  • PROS: very portable on bike or runs and titratable. Has bicarb to reduce lactic acid.
  • CONS:  taste is very salty to the tongue but tolerable and adaptable. A little pricy.

Catalyte – very well-rounded product at a great price point. A lot of bang for the buck as it provides a full B-complex and descent vitamin C which is needed under high training loads. Other formulas can’t match this product for complete support. Offers a small amount of carb to facilitate absorption of the sodium.

  • PROS:  love the taste, the price and the sodium load that come with bicarb. Well-rounded and complete.
  • CONS:  one flavor (lemon-lime).

Nuun - might serve for hypotonic minerals late in a workout as they are tablets and can be added to a water break but as the prime replacement is it a very low dose.

  • PROS:  Easy to use and has a variety of flavors.
  • CONS:  the minerals are in a poorly absorbable format (oxide and carbonate). Minimal sodium content, inadequate for endurance events.

Liquid IV – offers the largest carb load which may be ideal for some athletes looking for a quick solution. Carb aids sodium absorption but that is all you get with this product, no bells or whistles.

  • PROS:  offers higher carb load with a meaningful dose of sodium. Quick and easy to add to your workout.
  • CONS:  Pricy for a minimalist formula. Not ideal for consumption throughout the day given the sugar load.

Gatorade - the worst of any electrolyte option. Hyperosmolar so it may actually dehydrate you. Fructose is one of the sugars which muscle can’t use for energy. Has very little sodium which is the very reason you are told its helpful which it isn’t. Gatorade is made by Pepsi Cola company and is essentially a Pepsi with a pinch (small) of salt added. No magnesium, or other valuable minerals other than a small amount of potassium.

  • PROS:  can’t see any other than it comes in lots of artificial flavors.
  • CONS: no meaningful amount of sodium so unable to make a significant difference. Fructose is harmful and problematic as it doesn’t fuel athletic performance.

The right selection comes down to what type of effort you are making in your chosen sport. Do you need sugar intake due to the length of your exercise?  Taste matters.  Tolerance of your gut to salt loads has to be experimented with. Each athlete is different so play with these options.

My own personal favorite as I head out for a 3 hour bike ride:

  • Catalyte with a touch of added Himalayan sea salt to increase sodium content.
  • Corvalen to enhance ATP turnover and energy production.
  • Keto Metabolic as a ketone source as I am a ketogenic athlete, or Amino Complex (BCAA) as fuel.
  • Nema Base in my pocket for added bicarb and sodium if I feel my sweat is excessive or my effort needs a lift. 2 tabs under my tongue every 15 minutes as needed.

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