How Salt Can Help You Run Faster on Race Day
Salt gets a bad rep. Countless studies show us that, as Americans, we consume too much sodium, and excess amounts can wreak havoc on our health-and our waistlines. (Try these 6 Sodium-Free Swaps.) But for athletes, there may be some wiggle room. That's because when you're going the distance-like in a marathon or a long distance-triathlon-your sports drink may not be enough to replace the electrolytes you lose from sweat. The solution: more salt. (That's right, more.)
In a new study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, researchers tested the effects of salt supplements in people competing in a half-triathlon. They gave one group of athletes their usual sports drinks, plus 12 salt capsules to be spread out throughout the competition, and gave another group their sports drinks plus a placebo. The results? Even though the control group had better average times in previous races, the salt-fed group finished an average of 26 minutes faster. And, as any marathoner know, 26 minutes is huge. (Check out more of The Best Foods to Fuel Your Marathon Training.)
What's the salty secret? Well, when you sweat, your body loses electrolytes. And during shorter exercise periods (like a half hour on the treadmill or even a race that's less than two hours, like a half marathon), a sports drink has enough sodium in it to maintain your electrolyte balance. But in longer events, taking salt capsules or eating salty foods like nuts could help minimize how many electrolytes you're losing, which winds up boosting your performance, say the study authors. The amount of salt you need depends on a bunch of different factors, like how much you sweat, the temp, and how much you're working out. Your standard diet may already have enough salt in it, but if you're competing in a race that's over two hours long, make sure to read our Diet Doctor's thoughts on Restoring Electrolytes.