Waking up in the morning with cotton mouth, looking for a glass of water as quickly as possible, and then it just evaporates in your mouth leaving you wanting another. You start thinking back to the night before and reviewing what you had. We've all been there. And no, I'm not talking about being dehydrated from drinking. Rather, you're all dried out from salt in your food.
My initial thought had been that I had too much salt in my food during dinner and that made me dehydrated. So, working under this premise, how in the world could sodium loading possibly be helpful in training and racing? Wouldn't that just dehydrate me more?
As a roundabout way of answering those questions, I'll say that sodium loading has been a missing component to my nutrition plan and that salt tabs during training and racing have elevated my performance this season. Having salt doesn't dehydrate you. It's not that the salt intake takes water away from your body and dries you out. By having more salt, your body wants to hold on to more water. So you need to drink more water to satisfy that urge. With this understanding, the benefits of salt intake become more apparent for training and race purposes. With an extra intake of salt, you can hold on to more water and also not cause discomfort to your body. I know I've felt the sloshy up and down feeling of having too much water in my stomach while running. With the sodium intake, there's now an extra source to absorb the new water.
This has made a huge difference in the cramping that I've traditionally experienced during longer endurance tests. In the past, I've hit the run and started to have calf cramps or quad cramps at some point during the run leg. During the Boston marathon, I waited too long to have electrolytes / salt tabs and that made a huge difference in the last few miles. Now, as I've started to use salt tabs throughout training and races, those issues have dropped off and my performance has stayed consistent. All of this has been made possible by the work with my sports nutritionist, Nicci Schock and Elevate by Nicci.
Sodium loading is a two part process. The night before the workout/race in question, you take a certain amount of sodium. For me, it's roughly 3000mg of sodium mixed with water and orange juice. The oj acts to help absorb the sodium and process it in your system. I'm sure there's a more scientific way to describe it, but that works for me. Then, in the morning, you finish off the process with a smaller amount of sodium. The benefit here is that your body will hold on to water as you drink it. It doesn't mean you won't sweat and lose water, but you are ahead of the game and able to hold on to more for longer. This is especially helpful when it's hot outside or if you are a heavy sweater. As you add electrolytes / salt tabs to the in-race/training nutrition, then the sodium stores in your body won't be depleted as quickly. The end benefit is less muscle cramping and fatigue and more performance.
It's definitely a trial and error process to find the right balance for sodium loading and not feeling bloated and uncomfortable. But once you find the right intake, the results are amazing. There's no reason to think that salt is an enemy of training and performance. As is the case with all parts of nutrition, just be smart. Test different approaches in training and keep track of what works.