By Steve Sisson
1. Drink lots of electrolyte-enhanced drinks such as Powerade and Accelerade. The benefit of drinking electrolytes is two fold: you ingest both calories & electrolytes from a single source, and, being in a liquid form, they absorb into your blood stream much more quickly than in any other form. The drawback to this method is that you'll need to take in many more calories than necessary to get enough electrolytes to remain in balance. For some, this is no problem. However, for others who either have sensitive stomachs or try to minimize non-essential calories, it’s best to avoid excessive sugar intake.
2. Take electrolyte tablets, pills, & capsules. For non-caloric options to replacing electrolytes, research the various pill forms of electrolyte replacement & see what works for you. It is very important that you begin this process before your long runs for a few reasons. Some folks need to practice taking the supplements while running; it is certainly an acquired skill. You will also want to see which brand or pill form works best for you. The following are two recommended brands:
Electrolyte Stamina: Manufactured by Trace Minerals & available at Whole Foods Market are a low cost & easily accessible option. I used this product all summer long in my difficult preparation for Pikes Peak. Many in my group began to call them the “magic pills”. Limitations include their large size & nori paper/seaweed-like taste that some find offensive.
E-caps: Manufactured by Hammer Nutrition (makers of Hammer Gel) is the original capsule, used & loved by ultrarunners since 1987. You can find these online, at GNC & at various pharmacies.
The only problem with pills is that you will still need to get your sugars in somehow. Many folks take a gel & a pill with water. This is especially recommended if the marathon you are running does not use the same drink you've used in your training preparation.
3. Powdered electrolytes are a great option for those that choose to add their electrolytes directly to water or to a sugared replacement drink. This is appropriate for those who can handle some sugared drinks but want to maximize the electrolyte content. This is the preferred method when pre-hydrating for a long run or race. The following are some recommended brands:
Nuun: With its light, tart taste, this product has won over many converts in the last couple of years. It comes in a convenient canister & is easily administered to any drink. The only drawback is the cost. You can find cheaper options, but they won't be as tasty or as convenient.
ElectroMix: Made by the same folks that make EmerGenCy, the Alacer Corp, these come in packets that make either a liter or a gallon of calorie free sports drink. It is lemon lime flavor & can be very acidic. You'll want to try it out before any long run & ensure that it works for you. By far, these are the cheapest option to pre-hydration.
Ask around on the long runs to see what your fellow runners use, & ask them why they like what they’ve chosen. It’s really a matter of personal taste. However, taking some form of electrolyte replacement is absolutely essential to your long runs & quality workouts.