Should I Take Salt Before a Long Run or Marathon?

salt packet
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"I've heard about some runners taking salt before a marathon. Is that necessary?"

When you're running, you lose electrolytes (such as salt) through sweat. Since electrolytes help your body retain fluids and may prevent muscle cramps, you need to replace them when running more than 90 minutes.

Not replacing sodium you've lost and just drinking water can lead to hyponatremia, a low concentration of sodium in the blood that can be life-threatening if not treated.

Low sodium can also lead to swollen fingers and toes.

By drinking sports drinks and eating sports gels or blocks with sodium during your run, you can replace the salt you're losing.

How to Do a "Salt Shot"

Another option for maintaining your sodium levels is to a "salt shot" before you start your run/race. This is especially a good option for those runners who don't like the taste of sports drinks or whose sensitive stomachs can't handle them. Here's how to do it:

  • Just empty a salt packet (from McDonald's or other fast food place) onto your hand.
  • Lick the salt off your hand.
  • Drink some water immediately after.
  • If you're doing a run longer than 2 hours, you may want to take another one halfway through your run/race. You can carry them in a pocket or running belt.  A word of caution: If you carry them in pocket or somewhere they may get wet from sweat, put them in a small Ziploc bag so they don't get soaked.
  • If you're running in a long distance race such as a half or full marathon, the medical aid stations will have salt packets, so you can always stop at an aid station for some extra salt.

Other Sodium Options

If you don't like sports drinks and also don't want to do salt shots, there are some other easy and convenient options for replacing sodium lost through sweat.

Some runners choose to eat pretzels or other salty snacks during their runs to get some extra salt. Another option is to take a salt tablet halfway through your long run.

Runners can also add some salt to their pre-run meals. You can sprinkle a little salt on your pasta, potatos, or whatever carbohydrates you eat the night before a race. If you're having a smoothie for breakfast before a long run, add a pinch of salt to it.

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