Monday, August 19, 2013

Salt Pills ... Good Idea?

S!Caps ... 1 Capsule, 341 mg Sodium, 22 mg Potassium
First of all, thank you so much for all of the thoughtful comments and emails I received regarding my last post.  It's really cool to be able to share with, trade ideas, and vent to other runners who understand specifically what you're going through in your training.  As far as today's post ...

Have you ever, or do you currently use salt pills or tablets during a long run?  

I've been messing around a little with them this summer and have had decent results.  I'm finding them somewhat useful, but they tend to lead to an upset stomach later in the day.

The idea of using them came from my 6-Hour Ultra Marathon this winter.  During training and most of the race, I basically fueled on bananas and Lay's potato chips.  The bananas for the carbs and potassium.  The Lay's for their deliciousness and also the intense amount of salt.  I noticed that after a few hours of running during training, I sometimes got light-headed.  So I put my internet medical degree to use and after extensive Google research found that it indicated I was most likely electrolyte imbalanced from dehydration.  I read somewhere that salt could help "balance you out" when you reached that state.  So I started taking Lay's potato chips on long runs with me and when I started feeling light headed, they were like an instant cob-web clearer.  Seriously ... like within just a few short minutes I was feeling better again.

However, there are several differing medical opinions on salt pills and tablets during a workout.  The basic thought process is that we basically lose a lot salt in our sweat during a long workout.  The idea is that salt capsules basically replace some of the lost sodium, and the additional sodium helps us retain water which prevents cramping.  Many in the medical community are not big fans of the addition of salt to your long run, while others seem to think it's no big deal.

I took this last summer, typical long run sweat
On an average long run this time of year in Kansas City, the temperature can range from 70-85 degrees with humidity levels around 90% ... before 8am.  I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that on these days, there is not one dry stitch of clothing on my body when I'm finished.  It's not unusual at all to literally lose 6-7 pounds during a 3 hour run.  I'm not joking.  They say the human body is over 80% water ... but after a long run I'm pretty sure I'm down around 39%.  Bone dry.

I talked to a couple of elite athlete friends of mine who have taken salt tablets for years, and they swear by them.  So an hour into a long run, I've started popping one ... and I love it!  It really seems to keep any cramping at bay, and the biggest difference I've noticed is that I NEVER feel lightheaded during or after a run.  In the past, I would feel a little woozy for the next few hours while my system caught up with fluid depletion.  The additional sodium seems to really help me maintain some of those fluids and I don't feel like I'm gonna pass out when I suddenly stand up after a long run.

Most sports drinks have about 300-400 mg of sodium per liter, and a banana has about 400 mg of potassium.  The salt capsules I take (pictured above) have 341 mg of Sodium, but also 21 mg of Potassium.  There are other salt pills on the market that also include Calcium and Magnesium.  I still mix in a gel at miles 8, 16, and sometimes 22, and drink 4-6 oz of water/Gatorade every 2 miles or so, but the salt capsules have really seemed to make a difference in the summer heat.

Even though I've never had a GI issue with the salt tablets during a run, they seem to upset my stomach for most of the day after a run.  It's nothing severe, just a little bloating and minor gas pain, which is to be expected with the additional sodium in the system.

At this point I don't know that I will make them a mainstay in my training and racing, there's just too much "bad press" against them, and the jury is really still out as far as their usage.  Plus, I really don't think they would do any good in shorter workouts without the excessive loss of fluids.  But as far as my summer training with them goes ... so far so good.  I really think they've been a plus.
I'd really love to hear your thoughts on salt pills ... pro/con ... why/why not!
... be great today!


  1. I've never used salt tablets but I've never trained for a marathon during summer so my long runs are usually under two hours. I know that sweat composition can vary a lot from one person to the next. Some people are heavy salt sweaters and they'll be the ones with the salt marks on their clothes and salt grit all over their faces. Others sweat mostly water so it's really up to the individual to know how much they need to replace.

  2. I'm a SCaps gal!! Best on the market and I've tried them all! Being from Houston I know ur sweat ratio. Now in Nebraska I rarely need them but keep them on hand for the rare really humid days of a long run

  3. Nothing on salt tablets but what grade/age is your daughter student teaching? I hope she has a great experience!

  4. Your post-run sweat picture looks eerily like me after a run - but I have better legs. I always ring my clothes out before I put them in the wash. I don't want to soak all the other laundry!
    I don't use salt tabs, but I add in a lot of salt when doing summer long runs. Without it, I cannot get my blood pressure back up after a long run. I'm talking 80/38 max for the rest of the day (this is awesome at work). I started bringing watered-down Gatorade plus salted oatmea or ricel in tiny baggies. It works like Gu, but more salt, less potassium. If I did just Gu or Gatorade, I'd overload on K trying to get my Na. Or I suppose I could just use salt tabs, but that's too conventional for my weird self.

  5. ajh - She's doing her student teaching this semester with 5th graders, then I think she does a session with Special Needs children, although I don't think the PC term is "Special Needs" anymore, but anyway - those are the children she wants to work with for her career. The girl is a saint ... obviously takes after her mother.

  6. I've used them and still do on long summer runs. I don't know if they make any difference though. Mentally they do and that's good enough for me :) The clever people over here say they make no difference.

  7. I've used Hammer Enduralytes for ultra running. Very quick fog clearing and no GI issues.

  8. I have used salt tablets for years... I have no idea if they really help or not.... I can lose 7# in an hour here in Florida... and my max was 20# in 8 hours in the Utah desert. It's amazing what we can put our bodies through

  9. S-caps work great and use them for all my ultras. The trick is know your own needs (everybody is different), and the number per hour varies based on temp and humidity. How many per hour during the day with 90+ deg with high humidity is way more compared to 70 deg nights. Also factor in how much salt is in the other stuff you eat. S-caps actually helps stabilize your stomach where all the gels can tear up your stomach.

  10. I use them for hot long runs and it has kept the cramps away in marathons.

  11. I'm a firm believer of salt tablets; I take them regularly. They help mitigate neuromuscular overload compounded by dehydration. 300mg per every 20 oz of H2O (about 1 salt tablet / hour if you drink about 40 oz of water, which you should).

  12. You could always carry beef jerky.

  13. I use Endurolytes by Hammer and I have never had a problem with them. I am a very heavy salt sweater - I mean my clothes, face, arms, and legs are covered!

  14. Jill ... maybe I misunderstood your comment, but 40oz of water per hour = five full 8oz cups of water every hour - basically every 12 minutes. That seems like way too much. If a person runs a 12 minute mile, they would be drinking 8oz of water every mile. I think that would make a person sick. It seems like it would depend on the athlete, their body, their dehydration rate, their conditioning, their diet, their physical size, their speed, the ambient temperature, the wind, the sun, the humidity, possibly the elevation, the distance of the race, their average and max heart rate, and their GI conditioning. But maybe 40oz is a good hard rule for everyone, and I'm just not drinking near enough. I dunno.

  15. The salt packets from fast food restaurants have worked fine for me in the past. I usually only resort to them on really hot long runs/ races. Otherwise, I'm fine.


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