Sodium is my Favorite Food

Sodium is my Favorite Food - Run Leelanau
These could use a little more salt

For real. Even before becoming a long-distance runner, I’ve loved the salty things in life. I’m the person who adds salt to already salted popcorn and soup. Heck, I salt my steamed vegetables.

My love of salt is relevant to running because I experienced symptoms of hyponatremia during two of my marathons. If you don’t know, hyponatremia occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. This commonly happens to endurance athletes who consume water while exercising, but not enough electrolytes. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and confusion. If hyponatremia persists for too long without treatment, it can cause long-term damage or even death (please note I am not a doctor – source credit; the ever favorable WebMD). Warm and humid weather can make people more susceptible to hyponatremia, as it causes them to sweat more (thus losing more sodium/electrolytes).

It was during my first and third marathons that I had symptoms of hyponatremia. The first one because I had no idea what hyponatremia was and I didn’t know how to fuel/hydrate during that initial 26.2. After I finished, my family and I went to a restaurant to celebrate. I remember sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall (yuuuuuuuck), thinking I was going to die. When I finally ate my sandwich, I was blown away by how quickly I started feeling better.

I suffered from symptoms of hyponatremia during my third marathon while still on the course. It was humid and I was pushing myself for a time goal. I was dangerously close to not meeting that goal and had no seconds to spare in grabbing any fuel for the last few miles. Literally at mile 26, I started to get tunnel vision, my face was numb, and I had chills pinging throughout all of my limbs. Lesson learned – time goals are not worth putting my health in danger.

I brought these occurrences up to my doctor. He educated me on hyponatremia and you know what? He encouraged me to consume more salt! What a glorious man. Perhaps I have taken his suggestion too far, as the amount of salt I put on popcorn now makes my husband choke and cough. But in all seriousness, I am diligent at consuming electrolytes with my water while running, and I usually have a salt tablet in my mouth during long runs. I don’t know about you guys, but after a very long run, I typically have salt caked up behind my ears and all over me from the sweat (TMI? Ah, well). So clearly, that needs to be replenished as I’m moving.

To me, the most important thing about endurance training is finding an appropriate fueling strategy. I love learning about other peoples’ fueling – what, how often, what works, what has failed, etc. Drop me a line to let me know!

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