I was reading this post about salt tablets taken during long distance running on this blog about running and started thinking to myself, “why do you need salt if you run for a long distance?” This prompted me to click on the website for S!Caps where I kept seeing the words like sodium, potassium, and phosphate, which all seemed to be underneath the umbrella of electrolytes. Isn’t an electrolyte just a gimmick to get us to buy Gatorade? Isn’t the BEST drink just pure water? Don’t we just like sports drinks because they taste better than water?
I consulted The Oracle to see what indeed an electrolyte was, if our bodies really needed them, and, if so, where we could get more of them when we’re running out. If you are a person who runs marathons you already know all of this. If you are a person who prefers Seinfeld marathons while eating peanut butter out of the jar with a large serving spoon, this can actually be interesting.
The Oracle told me that both muscle tissue and neurons are considered electric tissues, and that these tissues are activated by electrolyte activity. Muscle contraction is dependent on calcium, sodium, and potassium, which are all ions that make up an electrically conductive medium, or an electrolyte. What I get out of that is, without electrolytes our muscles can’t form movements and our neurons can’t form thoughts. OK, so we definitely need them.
Do we lose them when we exercise? Not normally. But if we participate in such activities as Ironman events or ultramarathons we do, or else we risk water intoxication – also called water poisoning or overhydration. What? Water intoxication? Why didn’t anyone tell me!
No, it’s not what you think. I didn’t say you could get drunk from water. I said you could be poisoned to death and explode. There’s a difference. It happens if you drink huge amounts of water to make up for lost fluids (as you should do if you are an Ironman-er) without also replacing your supply of electrolytes. It turns out that during extended periods of exercise, if you consume a lot of water to make up for lost fluids, you can get water intoxication due to lack of elecrolytes.
So, is Gatorade really good during exercise? Yes. Are S!Caps even better? Absolutely. But since you don’t lose a significant amount of electrolytes unless you run around the world twice in one day, the normal person doesn’t have to worry about it. The best thing for you would be plain old water. So what was the point of me telling you all this if you’re never going to run a marathon in your life? Just in case you decide to get in a water drinking contest and die.
I guess it’s true what they say: too much of anything will kill you. Except LOLcats that is.