Training Tuesday: Critical electrolytes and water intake guidelines for the multi-hour endurance athlete

Bike World News has partnered with cycling coach Todd Parker. Todd is an exercise physiologist, endurance sports coach, personal trainer, author, public speaker, guest lecturer, and strength and conditioning specialist with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology & Human Performance. He is a former professional triathlete and has raced competitively in swimming, cycling, running  and triathlon. 

Those who exercise for more than 4 hours and are highly vigilant about hydration, to the extent they drink more fluid than they lose in sweat, over time they accumulate a large enough intake of water to dilute the blood sodium.

Consuming sodium-containing sports drinks helps, but does not protect against hyponatremia because a sports drink offers far more water than sodium. The typical sports drink may have only 1/5th the concentration of normal blood serum.

While dehydration is the far more common concern than over-hydration, all endurance athletes can avoid either problem by knowing their sweat rates. To learn your sweat rate, weigh yourself naked before and after you exercise. A one-pound drop equates to losing 16 ounces of sweat, and generally translates that you should target drinking at least 8-16 ounces of fluid during similar exercise bouts. It is rare that one can keep up with the rate of water loss, but we need to strive to find our optimal hydration intake rates.

Unfortunately, we’re all different, and therefore it’s “trial and error” through the range of experiences until you know how much and how often to drink under various conditions.

Having knowledge about your sweat rate takes the guesswork out of drinking during long training sessions and races , and reduces the risk of health problems associated with consuming too much or too little water.

Let’s revisit “The Big 4” that were covered in Part I of these article series, those being Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium.

Chloride is often referred as the 5th electrolyte that affects performance; however, at a much less significant level, and is also highly dependent upon the intake amounts of sodium and potassium.

As important as maintaining adequate hydration, the sometimes arduous task of figuring out how to maintain adequate balance of these minerals know as electrolytes which facilitate electrical nerve impulses to aid in long-term muscular contraction (i.e. multi-hour endurance training and racing).

As imbalances “initially surface”, muscles often begin to spasm and twitch, and as the imbalance(s) progress, muscles start to cramp, followed by a muscular “contractile locking” – ultimately inhibiting the affected muscle(s) from further contraction. When this stage is reached, the muscle seizes up and further performance is often not possible until homeostasis (a normal functioning balance) is reestablished.

Below are the general amounts of these electrolytes are normally within the body, estimated loss rates, and intake guidelines during multi-hour endurance training and racing.

Normal Daily Dietary Intake Guide for the Big 4:

  • Sodium: variable; average 5.6–7.2 g
  • Potassium: 1,950 – 3,900mg
  • Chloride: Varies with potassium and sodium intake: ~2.5-3.6g/day (or 2,500-3,600mg/day)
  • Magnesium: 300–400 mg
  • Calcium: ~1,000-1,200 mg

Many endurance athletes will require much more than the tolerable Upper Intake Level (UIL) for sodium (2.3 g/day) and chloride (3.6g/day).

Let’s continue with Sodium. For example, it is estimated that the average American consumes somewhere between 8 and 12 g of table salt per day. (Table salt—sodium chloride—is 40% sodium, so there are 3.2-4.8 g sodium in 8-12 g of salt). This amount of sodium intake is about 20 to 30 times the amount of sodium needed to replace obligatory losses from urine (~ 25 mg/day), skin (~100mg /day), and feces (~25 mg /day).

Athletes need more sodium because they lose more sodium in sweat. The range of sodium lost in the sweat of athletes is wide because some athletes are salty sweaters and others are not. Sweat is saltier during the early stages of training and heat acclimation more so than a highly fit athlete that’s fully acclimated to exercise in the heat.

We will continue this series with the other 3 of what I call the Big 4, as well as how best to prevent electrolyte imbalances, as well as how to “come back” once signs of the onset of an imbalance surfaces. If you haven’t already, now is the time to experiment with different products in order to find out which ones may make you nauseous, or those not palatable (which means you won’t consume it often enough, and which one(s) contribute to your training success and optimal event performances.

Stay tuned to coverage on the next installment of the critical topics of maintaining adequate hydration and electrolyte balance.

Today is the Push-up.

Push-up.  To progressively increase difficulty

  • Elevate feet on a bench or step
  • Elevate feet (lay top of foot and ankle) on a Swiss/Stability Ball
  • Elevate feet on a Swiss/Stability Ball – up on toes (this significantly increases core engagement to maintain balance)

Stay tuned for more exercises and how to increase the workload, challenge and fun!

Mental Imagery, Visualization, and Pre-Race Anxiety Management Training

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For those who aren’t aware, just about any charity ride or other century (100-miler), is a “race for many”. Regardless of the reason or reasons, many show up to be the first to cross the line or win. These are unofficial races; however, they are races nonetheless. Even if you’re riding your weekly group ride, there are known landmarks for “sprint points”, “king of the mountain points”, or the telltale city limit sign that may be the final sprint for the overall win. There’s bragging rights for the following week. So whether it’s a charity ride, century, or weekly group ride…, there’s a finish line somewhere, and at some point or designate points, it’s all bets are off, and everyone for themselves. Today’s 100-miler for the Chesapeake Challenge MS Ride, was no different. There was no “jaw jacking” and soft pedaling going on for the first 10-20 miles. Rather, it was “on” from the beginning and from the “peloton”, packs formed. Today I was riding with one of my Triathletes (Evan) – his first 100-miler, yet he and I pushed the pace – leading from the start. As packs formed from the splintering large group (or peloton). We were what you call in a 5-man break, and this break held for the next 90 miles, well almost. With about 11 miles to go, two of the five got “snapped off the back”, so it was now just “a big strong horse”, Evan, and I. With 2 miles to go, we took a right hand turn into a headwind, I looked back quick, and told Evan “we gapped him, we’ve got’em, go for it! With Evan still pushing the pace, my “competitive juices started to flow”, and no matter what, once I saw “The Finish Line”, I came around with about 50 meters to go and “pipped” him at the line. In other words, I beat him. And after I did my victory crossing, I immediately felt bad, and thought, “I should have let him win”. I later discussed it with him, relayed my feelings, and told him that given the same scenario again, “if you can snap me, then snap me!” Because even though it may be a week’s worth of “glory” from you weekly group ride, a competitive charity event, or an actual official race, if you have a designated finish line, everyone wants to finish 1st! Valuable lesson learned today for many, but when it came down to it, the “old man’s” experience ended up taking the win, even if I felt bad in doing so. All said, I’m so proud of Evan – as this time last year a 65-miler was a challenge, but today with 70% or more in headwinds, he pushed a 100 miles like a true champ. Thanks for memories Evan!Evan and I at the 2014 Chesapeake Challenge 100-miler 1st and 2nd