Nutrition

One Race Consideration – Balancing Carbs, Sodium and Water

You’re about to race a long distance race and your obvious concern is energy and cramping (along with GI problems if you’re an ultra distance athlete). I wanted to pass on some research I read about recently. There were some interesting points on electrolyte balance, carb intake and water balance on races (events) lasting more than 90 minutes.

To date, my approach has been to carry water, take salt tabs and gels at key moments in the race. I put the math and science into it and it mostly worked out. I knew my likely sweat rates from prior testing so I had a good idea of how much salt, carbs and water I would need to take in every hour to get through the race. The one time it failed was in the Beast in Quebec when the race was over 3 hours long and I cramped up. I ate and took the right mix of salt and carbs but I failed to take in water at the right moments because it’s hard to know when you have a 3L water pack on your back, exactly how much you are taking in. Then I ran out of water, was still cramping and nothing seemed to help.

The research I was reading points to mixing water with salt and carbs to take it all in at “average” ratios which means drinking when you feel like you need it (paying attention to it during the race). You can use supplements at places like MEC or you can use Gatorade.

The interested thing about Gatorade is that it combines fructose, glucose, sodium and water into a good mix, giving you more bang for your buck on carb absorption. Because fructose goes straight through our body to be used as energy (there’s nothing slowing it down) and glucose takes more time to absorb – in distance events you maximize your hourly carb intake with a mix of the two. Your body (let’s say average male) can absorb 60 grams of carbs in the form of glucose per hour to use as energy. But if you mix in fructose, your body can absorb 100 grams of carbs in the hour. This makes for compelling energy differences over long distance races.

What does this mean to us? Well #1 is to try it before you race – I don’t condone going into a race with a product or idea that you’ve never put to the test in training. However #2 is that you should try a drink mix that offers sodium and carbs with water to get the right balance as you race. In OCR races, continue to drink from water stations because you don’t know when you’ll run out of water (events over 15km’s) but those sips won’t offset the balance enough to make a big difference overall if you’re still drinking your mixed drink. You can try Gatorade too, which is engineered to offer exactly what it says on television (just don’t drink it if you aren’t doing long, hard endurance events lasting less than 90 minutes because you probably don’t need it).

As with all things, you don’t know until you put it to the test. It’s up to you what you do with the information. I’ve tried out a drink in training in the last week and it sits in my stomach fine. I’ll put it to the test in the beast this weekend and see how it affects my body over a long duration of effort.

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