Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pickles And Pretzels

Pickles And Pretzels

            75% of the sodium people consume (in America) comes from processed foods and eating at restaurants and not from the dining table. Salt and sodium are actually two different things, even though they are often used interchangeably. Salt is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride (NaCl). Sodium is found in many different foods from fruit to eggs to milk to cucumbers, however in much less amounts than what is found in canned soups, frozen dinners and fast food meals. The fact is, we need sodium, not too much, not too little, and some of us more than others, and that is where you, the runner, comes in.  Whether it be the climate you live in or the miles you cover during a training session if sweating it up is your thing then there is a role that sodium may play in keeping you hydrated. Here’s the lowdown:

     Exercising in the heat makes a person more prone to dehydration
     Fluid consumption before exercise may improve performance because it will delay dehydration during exercise
     We humans act on cue, that is, we drink water when we are thirsty. However, unlike a“meal time” we do not necessarily have a “drink time.”
     Sodium consumption triggers the thirst mechanism switch to turn on. Think about it. Have you ever not wanted to drink something after eating a handful of pretzels?


According to Morris and colleagues consuming sodium before a run in warm conditions is a push to drink more water, and therefore hydrate you, the athlete, over the course of an exercise session. Here is what you need to know concerning this study:

     9 males were recruited; all led very active lifestyles prior to testing
     Ages: 27 ± 4 yrs, Weight: 73.8 ± 9.6 kg (approx. 163 pounds average weight), VO2max* of 55.9 ± 9.3 ml/kg/min (this number is indicative of a trained male).
     The exercise of choice for testing was cycling
     High-sodium foods were not allowed to be consumed for 48 hours, while alcohol and caffeine were not allowed for 24 hours before each visit to the test clinic
     The evening before a visit to the test clinic the men consumed a carbohydrate-rich meal and one liter of water (by they way, carbohydrates attract water)
     The subjects ate a snack that contained 380 calories (54 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 220 mg Sodium) and one of three experimental treatments: 60 mg/kg body weight NaCl, aspartame, or no treatment with 2 ml/kg body weight water.
     Remember what I said about sodium above. NaCl (table salt) is only 40% sodium so don’t think that these subjects consumed copious amounts of sodium before the test. The test group pre exercise experiment sodium intake was more comparable to 2-3 servings of Rold Gold pretzels.
     After consumption subjects were given unlimited access to water and told only to drink when thirsty (the AHA! moment). The ‘hydration period’ in the study before exercise lasted 2 hours
     They then went for a ‘dehydration ride’ which was a more casual ride (submax) followed by THE TEST. A 200 KJ performance time trial in a warm environment of 30℃ (86℉)
     Picture this test as hopping on a bike and trying to burn roughly 50 calories as fast as you can
     So we have the test group (consumed sodium before the test), the control group (no sodium before the test) and others were given a placebo of aspartame (the fake out group)


So then what happened?  Well, as you may have guessed, the results were in favor of sodium, the test group.

     The amount of water consumed and retained during the hydration period was higher ✔
     Dehydration levels were less after the dehydration ride ✔
     The time to complete the performance time trial was improved

What does all this mean to YOU, the runner, the athlete, the trainee (especially those of you training in hot weather)?  It suggests that voluntary hyperhydration  can be instigated by acute consumption of sodium AND it will help out your hydration status and performance during that run in the sun. But wait right there- this does not give you a free for all to grab a jumbo bag of chips before you head out for your exercise session. Here are some key nutritional factors to keep in mind:

     “Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.” - Mayo Clinic
     People often consume water in response to thirst, but this may be at a time when dehydration is at about 1% set in. If you are coaching a team or you want to kick start your thirst mechanism this study was the first to show VOLUNTARILY increased fluid consumption that reach hyperhydration levels (woo hoo)!
     Goos, gels or manufactured supplements are not necessary to achieve this amount of sodium intake prior to exercise

Of course there are some limitations to every study as no study is perfect:

     Small number of trained subjects
     Only male subjects ( where my ladies at)?
     Short session duration
     Inconsistency between subjects with regard to fluid consumption and no repeated trials to test for this consistency (this may come down to genetics)

Heat 1[edit]

The Takeaway:

The next time you are planning to get outside and train and your weather app temp is heating up plan ahead and consume water with a little sodium rich snack such as pickles, pretzels, Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids drizzled over rice, or a fruit and veggie smoothie with some shakes from the salt shaker along with adequate carbs depending on the length of the session.

What about TOO much water? Great question. If you feel the water sloshing in your stomach that is a sign that you do not need to guzzle down more water, and if you feel cramps then just walk it out. Finally, and again, from experience of sweating it out volunteering with the indigenous people of the Hill Tribes in The Philippines last month- never underestimate the power of real food to provide the best energy.


If you would like to learn more about how food can move you, please contact me directly at

*VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. Generally, but not necessarily, the higher the VO2 max the better an athlete.

 Morris DM1, Huot JR, Jetton AM, Collier SR, Utter AC. (2015)  Acute Sodium Ingestion Before Exercise Increases Voluntary Water Consumption Resulting In Preexercise Hyperhydration and Improvement in Exercise Performance in the Heat.  Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (5):456-62. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0212. Epub 2015 Mar 26.

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