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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Update about how to replace electrolytes lost from sweating and exercise

This is an update to my earlier article on the subject of electrolyte replacement during endurance activities, like running or walking a marathon, or long hikes in warm conditions.
We receive daily advice from all directions to drink so many glasses of water per day and so many mls of additional water for every hour or so of exercise. I think this is unhealthy advice because rote advice about drinking makes no allowances for temperature, humidity, the size of the person, their physiology or the intensity of the exercise. When exercising in the same conditions, some people need to drink lots while others need very little.

If you are exercising regularly and sweating a lot then you need to drink at least as much water as you lose in a session. You can work out how much water is lost in an exercise session by weighing yourself before and after. If, for example, you drank one liter (1kg) of water during a long walk and you still lost one kilogram in weight, this equates to a two liter loss of water with a one liter deficit. So, you need to drink one liter of water - and a little more - in the hour or so after your walk. Do this weighing exercise now and then and you will develop a very good feel for how much to drink during exercise.
Learn to listen to your body.Rather than have sugary sports drinks that rot your teeth and gums and predispose you to diabetes, you are better served by drinking plain water and consuming whole foods that are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and carbohydrates - and minerals. It makes no sense at all to drink and eat nutrient poor processed carbohydrate foods, like sweets and noodles. Sugary sports drinks may be extremely acidic and laced with bright colourings and strong flavouring agents that have nothing to do with good health. Some sports drinks come with added "revitalising B vitamins". But they omit telling you that they have left out the B vitamins that make the drink look like urine. The resultant vitamin imbalance is hardly healthy.
Dr Les Fisher, is a leading authority in Australia on tissue salt therapies. I asked Dr Fisher for his recommendations about electrolyte replacement before, during and after strenuous exercise such as walking a marathon, or a day-long hike in warm conditions. Dr Fisher recommends taking one tissue salt tablet before exercise; one or two more during exercise - depending on the sweating rate - then one or two more after.

The tissue salts Dr Fisher is talking about contain small amounts of sodium phosphate (NaPO4), potassium phosphate (KPO4) and magnesium Phosphate (MgPO4). These salts help relieve cramps and reduce tissue acidity during exercise.

Of course, there is considerable variability in need depending on the person and the conditions. The best way to know how much suits you is to practice Dr Fisher’s advice during your training, weighing yourself as you go and adjusting things depending on weight changes from fluid loss and how you feel.

Drink as much water as is necessary to maintain body weight. Spread the tablets well apart so the body receives a slow dribble of the tissue salts, rather than a big hit. The only fluid needed is good old plain tap water and this is replaced as one loses it. If you are preparing for a really exhausting event in heat like a marathon, or a multi-day bush hike, then you might commence the supplementation several times over the day leading up to the event. Again, you spread the tablets well apart.

Note: These special tablets contain very small amounts of three different salts. The only effect on blood pressure will be beneficial.Tip: If you begin to cramp up during prolonged exercise, such as walking a marathon or a long hike, Dr Fisher suggests you place a single salt tablet under the tongue and let it slowly dissolve. This way, most of the salt is absorbed sublingually (Through the profusion of blood vessels of the cheeks and under the tongue), straight into the blood stream. Drink plenty of plain water as you go, according to thirst, and you will do just right!

Listen to your body.


  • The Active Elements Formula that is referred to in this article is Active 3.1.
  • For weighing yourself there is nothing more accurate in the home than the Salter 9106 Body Compostion Scales. These are selling off my web store for a song for the time-being (up to $140 in the shops).

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