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Okay, I’ve heard, and read, so much stuff about the amount of salt, and such, that endurance athletes need to function properly.  It’s pretty much accepted that we need to eat as much salt as we can stomach, especially in extraordinary heat.

I’ve never been much into eating salt.  I thought it wasn’t very good for you and I never developed a taste for it.  Plus I never had much of a taste for salty foods.  I don’t eat many chips, fries or other processed foods that are really salty.

I’ve tried to use more salt the last couple years since I’ve been having cramping issue, virtually my whole life, and I have more interest in controlling it now.

Yesterday I took a  S!Cap, one, before I rode.  It was close to 100 degrees out and super muggy. I was riding pretty easy again.  S!Caps have sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate.

About 20 minutes after I started riding, I could taste salt on my lips.  Like a lot of it.  I rode an hour and a half and then came back to my house to meet up with a bunch more guys.  I drank two large bottles on the first ride, then refilled my bottles and took one more S!Cap.

One the 2nd ride, it was really weird.  It was nearly 100 degrees still, but we were riding into real dark clouds.  It was nearly the first time in my life I was actually riding into a storm.  There were 7 of us and pretty much everyone was in agreement that we wanted to get wet.  And we did.  It soon started raining.

Then it really rained.  It was so strange riding in a downpour, not getting any cooling effect. That changed after about 5 miles.  The wind switched up and the rain got a lot cooler.  It was nearly cold, the rain, but the water spraying off the road was super warm, nearly hot.

We rode like this for about 30 minutes.  Pretty soon it stopped and then it started hearing up again.  Talk about muggy.

This is when I noticed, again, the taste of my sweat.  My lips definitely tasted of salt.  Then, even though I was wearing a bandana, the sweat in my eyes was burning them like crazy.  I had to spray my eyes out with my bottle.

My question is, why do you sweat more salt when you ingest more salt?  My sweat never tastes like salt unless I take a salt supplement.  When I do take a salt supplement, soon after, I start sweating and it always tastes like salt.

Here’s another example.  I’m not usually one of those guys that get crusty shorts, salt shorts, during long hot races.  But lots of guys do.  It seems more common in early season.

Back when the Tour of Texas was going on, we had been racing already for a few days by the time we got to San Antonio.  Normally, a lot of the riders would go down to the Riverwalk in San Antonio and eat Mexican food.  Of course, many riders would have a margarita.  Plus eat a ton of salty chips, waiting for their meals.

The day after this, the salt shorts were crazy.  Nearly everyone would have those white streaks on their black shorts.

This wasn’t the case the previous days, so I have to assume that everyone had ingested way more salt than normal and was sweating it out.  If this is the case, then why do we need to take salt supplements if we sweat it out as soon as we exercise.

So here are two examples of ingesting more salt to instantly just sweat it out.  If you sweat it right out, then why take it to start with?  Or maybe sweat is always supposed to taste salty and I’ve just never had the proper amount for an endurance athlete?  I have a hard time believing that.

One other question is, or observation, is that the salt gets into your system super quickly.   I can taste the salt on my lips really quickly after taking a supplement.  It is amazing that a small pill can be swallowed, goes to your stomach and then somehow get to your cooling system quick enough to taste the salt on my lips.   Pretty amazing.

Okay, I’ve tried to read up on this and haven’t really found any answers.  Any information that any of you have on this would be appreciated.   I’m not much into the salt taste and stinging in my eyes.







25 thoughts on “Salt

  1. JB

    Not much to add, but just because the salt gets sweated right back out does not mean that it is not doing something beneficial while it’s in there.

  2. RGTR

    Eagerly awaiting answers too. I’ll add one observation I’ve had.

    I searched a couple of years for a solution to my cramping in the 90-100 degree heat during races. I tried pickle juice, drinking a straight salt brine solution, and just about every pill on the market. I finally found that Elete drops added to my water does the trick. I add 40 drops to a one liter bottle and begin loading a couple days before a big race (not a crit, I’m talking 3-4 hr road race). The observation I found was that my weight goes up tremendously when I add Elete. Instead of the water going right through me, I retain it up to a certain point. I can add nearly 5 pounds of weight by doing this and I know it’s all water weight.

    I also get the really salty taste on my lips when doing this. Tastes like blood!

    1. krakatoa

      There’s a reason they’re called heat cramps. Not because of the external heat, but rather, what the external heat does to the body’s internal hydration resources. Fact is: A lot of systems are calling for water. Even if you’re downing lots of water, it doesn’t mean they get what they need, when they need it. If your leg muscles overheat, they cramp. And it’s that simple.

      And it might not be something you can ever conquer (while others will have no problems.

  3. Peter

    Try Endurolytes. No, I don’t work for them.

    I’ve also had luck with just ordinary antacids like Tums.

    Lots of water is probably the most important thing.

  4. Jennifer

    I’ll second the comment on the antacids. If you’re ever out and someone stays to take a turn for the worse a packet of gas station rolaids can help. It’s calcium and magnesium which seems to help with the cramps. I agree too that it seems like additional salt isn’t really the answer-most people consume more than enough and the salty sweat is a result of the body trying to rebalance things.

    1. Dan

      CAREFUL with the antacids! I nearly took a trip to the emergency room after taking a handful (8) of Tums before a race. It pretty much shut down my digestive track. My stomach/body wouldn’t absorb anything. I kept getting weaker and weaker after each hard effort until I finally had to get off my bike and just stand on the side of the trail. I felt extremely dizzy and it took me several minutes just to feel oriented enough to walk my bike out of the woods. Driving back to town I thought that maybe taking in some calories would be a good idea so I ate a hamburger, fries and a coke. That meal must have just sat in my stomach for probably 2-3 days. When it finally came out the other end a couple of days later it smelled pretty horrific! It seemed as though it were close to a month before I was back to normal.

  5. Kelly Strader

    Bicycle Medicine by Arnie Baker. General theme on supplements is that some are good to keep the balance. Your body will expel the excess of what it does not need along with the money you paid for it.

    1. Steve Tilford Post author

      Kelley-You’re quoting Arnie Baker here? He’s the guy that showed, proof positive, that Floyd Landis was not doping during the Tour de France, only to have Floyd admit later the whole thing. I don’t give any credence to anything he has to say, even if it might happen to be correct.

  6. Barret

    Look at tit this way; There are no definitive studies that show that the lack of sodium is the cause of cramping, It is thought that your muscles spasm for some reason…ie They are not accustomed to the specific movement/exercise, you are out of shape/poor conditioning. No body really knows for sure. There are a few studies that show that ingesting some type of sodium, wether it be pickle juice, S-Caps anything salty will send a message/trigger to your muscles that everything is all right and to calm down. So there is a a lot of hype out there from supplement manufactures to buy into their products. Study up!

    As to why you feel/taste more salt; The average american consumes 3500mg of salt per day(most of this comes from processed foods), recommended is 1500mg, big difference. Of course you need more when you exercise and sweat, but how much? S Caps have of 341my of sodium and in terms of sodium as sodium chloride = 867mg. Salt compromises a chemical composition of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. So by consuming 1 S Cap, you are consuming ???%++++of you daily sodium intake, if you are eating a healthy diet of mostly unprocessed/whole foods. That’s a lot of extra salt.

    Your body does an excellent job of regulating its self. If you consume more salt in your everyday diet, it needs more to keep an equilibrium. If you are on the more reasonable side of your salt intake and take on additional sodium your body will try and get rid of what it doesn’t need, sweat, salty lips… It’s exaggerated since your body doesn’t need as much additional sodium, not say you don’t need any, but just not as much. Still it is normal to “sweat out” sodium and other electrolytes.

    By consuming to much salt, your body will hold onto water, in accordance to how the chemistry of the body functions.

    And the opposite holds true, you don’t want to under consume sodium and over consume sodium, that could lead to a condition known as hyponatremia.

    Besides taking a electrolyte supplement, pay attention to how much sodium is in your caloric intake for the day. You may get plenty in this respect to serve your needs. Look at it this way: If you take a S Cap(341mg), Gel(50mg), Food Bar(100mg), Energy Drink(200mg), that’s almost 700mg of sodium….

    So how much sodium do you need????? Your probably good Steve without them, unless it’s a super crazy day….

    Just stuff I’ve learned from reading up and experience. Sure there is a lot more to it, so study up for yourself, I’m no rocket scientist:)

    PS. I just finished watching todays tdf stage. How many riders do you see taking SUCCEED, HAMMER NUTRITION, SPORT LEGS… or any other over the counter supplements? Gotta ask your self if they really work or are the supplement providers offering you up only specific studiers that are in there favor and bogus made up consumer testimonials? $$$$$

    Just Sayin’

  7. Craig

    The reason Tums work for cramps is the magnesium, not the calcium. The calcium shuts down stomach acid. Steve, you have experienced what everyone I know has… if you ingest salt you sweat salt. Given that you drink sports drinks and eat sports nutrition, you are getting plenty of salt for a 5-6 hour workout. Go beyond that and you may need to be careful.

    I don’t sweat salt rings unless I take salt tabs … then I am crusty as hell. I subscribe to the research that Noakes has done on this and believe that adding high levels of salt during exercise does more harm than good.

  8. Pepsi Frank

    For long events, longer than five hours, I alternate between a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade. The only other food I will take with me are Cliff Bars. My key to surviving is to monitor what I’m peeing out. I should have to pee every two to three hours. If I haven’t peed in this time I need to drink more. If my pee is just clear I need to to drink more Gatorade. If my pee is too dark I can just drink water for a while. Before I get dehydrated I always feel a chill even in the hottest weather. When I sense this I throttle back the effort and drink and eat more until I feel normal again. After the event I eat and drink by what my body is craving be that liquids or salty foods.

    My sweat is slightly salty but does not sting or create crusty clothing. I would think that would be a sign that you have more than enough salt in you.

    Listen to your body, it will tell you what you need.

  9. joriverdog

    Steve I have battled cramps since starting to race again after a long hiatus. I think it is a combination of factiors…one being older now. Two…riding above my normal effort and for a longer amount of time in races. Three…and perhaps the biggest reason…racing with legs that are not fully recovered….I have read legions of materials on cramping and the final analysis is that it is no one thing. I think if I have not fully recovered before a race, I am (most likely) also a bit dehydrated going into the event and the result is…..Cramps. As an older takes longer to recover. Try loading on fluids 3 to 4 days prior to the race…watch that your are recovered and see if that works

  10. A Sorcratic

    Link below, here are a few quotes.
    “Water intake is regulated by thirst. Thirst is triggered by receptors in the anterolateral hypothalamus that respond to increased plasma osmolality (as little as 2%) or decreased body fluid volume”

    “Body fluid volume and electrolyte concentration are normally maintained within very narrow limits despite wide variations in dietary intake, metabolic activity, and environmental stresses. Homeostasis of body fluids is preserved primarily by the kidneys.”

  11. Robert E

    Another bad thing about being older and trying to load up on fluids the day before, is you can be up pissing all night, and be pretty tired the day of your event.

  12. Jason

    During a long, hot ride, you’re definitely depleting your electrolytes, but you can’t just instantly top them off with a pill. You just have to replenish them at whatever rate your body can tolerate it. That’s why Gu, Endurolytes, and S!Caps all tell you to drink lots of water when you take them. You are trying to maintain the appropriate concentration of all of these electrolytes in your body. Too little salt, you’re going to sweat water. Too little water, you’re going to sweat salt. However, if your salt is too low and you’re too hot, you’re body is going to continue to sweat out water. This is because cooling is more critical than electrolyte balance at that point. And this is likely where cramps start to show up. Muscle fatigue obviously plays the most important role, but is not necessary for cramping if your electrolytes are way out of whack. This fatigue can be from just riding more than your training allows or if you simply tweak a muscle by pulling it or whatever. You can also experience cramps if you go in the opposite direction too–e.g., pop one of those S!Caps w/o enough water. So again, balance is key.

    I had to get blood tests for other reasons a couple days after a late April 150-mile ride. The ride wasn’t hot being in April, but I definitely sweat enough over the 9 hours (especially in the afternoon). Anyway, all my numbers came back being perfectly normal. However, even a couple days after the ride, my sodium was on the absolute lowest level of normal (and I eat healthy, but don’t go out of my way to avoid salt and do actually enjoy salty foods). I’ve also had my sodium level so low once the day after a summer double metric w/ 13,000+ft of climbing that I couldn’t even taste the salt of fries that were clearly salted. And I had not cramped during or after either of those long rides and tried to supplement as much as I could during those rides.

    Besides cramps, all of this electrolyte imbalance can wreak havoc on your digestive system too…

  13. Matt D

    Hey Steve,
    Are you doing the Todd & Ned’s Durango Dirt Fondo? Looks like a great event.

  14. catherine walberg

    Yesterday in Topeka was record humidity records moving the “feels like” temperature to 119 F.

  15. Trey H.

    Sweat is hypotonic (lower concentration of solute than comparison solution) in dissolved electrolytes (Na+, K+, Mg 2+, Ca2+) to plasma. Therefore, as you sweat your blood electrolyte concentration actually increases. Yet cramps occur. It is not electrolyte levels that cause cramping. Period. Yet many companies owe their entire existence to the myth (Hammer esp. Comes to mind). This electrolyte myth is dying a hard death, but the science is finally convincing a few. It’ll take years, though, sort of like pre-workout static stretching will prevent injuries, dietary fat is bad (or likewise carbs are “bad”), etc.

    1. Barret

      Read the article suggested in the link and educate yourself. It’s interesting that folks regurgitate mis information from the numerous Endurance Nutritional/Supplement Companies and what their friends say instead of doing your own thinking, this comes from reading the comments.

  16. Puffer

    Steve there is some accurate and some not accurate information here, but I don’t think anyone has directly answered your questions. Extracellular fluid (blood plasma) will have a higher concentration of sodium ions then intracellular fluid. Sweat glands draw from extracellular fluid. Sweat glands are able to reabsorb a certain amount of sodium ion in their function. So as someone stated earlier, your sweat will have a lower concentration of sodium ion then your extracellular fluid does. As your sweat rate increases the sweat glands ability to reabsorb sodium ions decreases in relation to the total amount of fluid released, your sweat gets a bit saltier. If you have a higher concentration of sodium ions in your extracellular fluid (ingesting a salt tablet recently) you will probably be able to see the result in your sweat if you are sweating at a high rate. That being said, the primary means of regulating sodium ion in extracellular fluid is a function of the kidneys, not sweat glands. My understanding is that you are also able to “train” or acclimatize your sweat glands to higher rates of sweat. An acclimatized gland is better at reabsorbing sodium ions.

  17. Chris Froome

    Because my heart rate rarely rises above my cadence rate I continue to pee solid salt cubes, just like a kangaroo rat. I’m still super ticked off that I can’t use my Custom RV Motor Home during the Tour de France- not really because I need the hyperbaric rolling chamber- but because I resorb electrolytes through my elbows when I sleep there. I know that’s weird- but I’m super high right now on the second rest day of the tour.


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