On long training runs and rides and during the race itself, it's often necessary to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
Anyone who has ever suffered an electrolyte imbalance on the run knows the pain of muscle cramping and other signs of heat stress.
Many athletes will get their nutrition from a gel like GU and attempt to replace sodium and other electrolytes with a sports drink.
But for runners and triathletes who can't stomach the taste of a sports drink, don't like the sponsored drink at a particular event, aren't interested in the extra calories or simply want something that replaces more of what is lost in sweat, there's a third option - electrolyte capsules.
In 2006, Jonathan Toker, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and is also a pro triathlete, invented the SaltStick dispenser, a device that fits inside a bike handlebar and can easily administer salt capsules.
At the time, Toker was using salt tabs that were already on the market for his triathlon training. Eventually, he realized that there was a need for an electrolyte replacement tablet that more closely resembled the electrolyte profile lost in sweat.
That's when Toker invented the SaltStick capsule to replace not only sodium, but potassium, magnesium and calcium as well.
"There's a lot in a sports drink, but it doesn't know what your body needs," said Toker, in a recent interview at the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run, where he placed third overall in the Run3 event.
An 8-ounce serving of Gatorade, for example, contains 110 mg of sodium and 30 mg of potassium. One SaltStick capsule contains 215 mg of sodium, 63 mg of potassium,11 mg of magnesium and 22 mg of calcium, all lost through sweat and important for maintaining performance in a race.
On long runs Toker gets all of his needed carbs through gels or chews, and all of his electrolytes through SaltStick capsules.
Making sure you have the right balance of electrolytes is important for elite athletes, but possibly even more essential for mid and back of the pack marathoners who are out on the course longer, loosing a lot more through sweat.
Drinking too much water during a marathon can cause hyponatremia, a sometimes deadly electrolyte disturbance that occurs when sodium levels in the blood get too diluted. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lethargy, muscle weakness, spasms and cramps.
"The longer you're out there the more important electrolyte replacement is," says Toker. "The walkers and the joggers, the five to six hour marathoners, are the ones who end up in the hospital."
But Toker isn't just out there to sell his own product.
The SaltStick dispenser works with any size “0” or “00” capsule, and he's the first to admit there are other replacement products on the market. No matter which form of electrolyte replacement you choose to use, Toker has one piece of advice: "Train with it and race with it."
Click HERE for more info SaltStick.
SaltStick provided a sample bottle of tablets for this article.
Kimberly Bontempo Bogin is the national Marathon Examiner and the Trail Running Examiner for Examiner.com. She's a three-time Emmy Award winning television producer and writer with 16 years of experience in the field. She's also a wear tester for a major running shoe company. Kimberly has participated in some of the biggest marathons in the country, including the ING New York City Marathon, the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon and the Rock 'n' Roll Denver Marathon. She will be running the Boston Marathon in April of 2011.