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Here’s Why Electrolytes Are Critical For Team Sport Athletes

team sport athletes

Many SaltStick customers participate in endurance sports and recognize that electrolyte-replacement is a key part of performance. Perhaps less known is that hydration is equally important to team sport athletes.

Put simply, team sport athletes sweat a lot. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study in 2005 that compared sweat rates of football players and runners. During exercise, the football players lost almost four times as much sweat as the runners. Some of this difference is due to body mass and conditioning; however, it is a reminder of the high sweat rates on the field or court.

Dehydration significantly impacts performance, and even a two-percent drop in hydration levels can reduce output. Athletes looking to prevent this slowdown should take steps to maintain proper hydration levels — which means replacing both lost water and electrolytes.

In this blog post, we examine the scientific literature regarding electrolyte levels and team sports performance, and we provide recommendations for your daily nutrition routine.

What does the science say?

Some athletes sweat more than others: A study published in 2016 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined 157 marathon runners and found that about 20 percent of athletes need extra sodium, due to high sweat rates. Additionally, the study found that men tend to lose sodium more quickly than women.

This variability exists in team sports, too: The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports published a 2010 study that found a wide range of sodium loss among football players. “Although football is a team sport, the great individual variability in sweat and electrolyte losses of players in the same training session or match dictates that individual monitoring to determine individual water and electrolyte requirements should be an essential part of a player’s nutrition strategy,” the paper concluded. In other words, it is up to the athlete to figure out his or her unique sodium needs and adapt a nutrition routine around those needs.

Often, team sports athletes are dehydrated: A 2010 article published in the European Journal of Sport Science found that 91 percent of elite team sport athletes, including soccer, basketball, volleyball and handball, showed symptoms of dehydration approximately three hours before practice. The researchers concluded that these athletes’ hydration practices were adequate to manage sodium and water loss during practice, but that athletes could take extra steps outside of practice to mitigate morning dehydration.

Confirming that often, team sports are dehydrated: Another study in 2015 suggests that many elite athletes do not take adequate steps to maintain hydration, concluding: “Most of the athletes start competition dehydrated, fail to compensate sweat loss during the game and continue to be dehydrated, regardless what kind of [sports] drink was used.”

Failing to replace lost sodium has measurable performance consequences: Lastly, a 2016 study by researchers at Camilo José Cela University examined the performance of 26 triathletes who competed in a half Ironman distance race (70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running) and found that athletes who replaced lost sodium with SaltStick Caps finished the race in an average of 26 minutes faster than athletes who hydrated with sports drinks alone. While this study did not examine team sport athletes, it is an important lesson in hydration. The performance differences occurred in the bike and run stages of the race, which is a few hours into the competition — the point at which electrolyte levels typically begin to decline.

The point of these studies is simple: Team sport athletes sweat a lot, and thus, they are often dehydrated at the start of games. Knowing electrolyte replacement is essential for optimal performance, these athletes should take steps to keep both water and electrolytes at healthy levels.

When do electrolyte levels run low in team sport athletes?

It would be nice to have a simple rule outlining when and how often to replace electrolytes through a form such as SaltStick. It’s not that easy, though, as electrolyte loss varies from person to person. However, a few common trends can help predict when you may need to replenish your salt stores:

When you are not adapted to the heat: One of the adaptations your body undergoes when exercising in the heat is reduced sodium content in your sweat. This means that if you are exercising outdoors in late spring or early summer, your sweat will be much saltier than later in the summer after you’ve acclimatized.

Keep this in mind at the pickup game next weekend, especially if you notice salt caked onto your clothes after it ends. If you are feeling high levels of fatigue, you may be running low on electrolytes.

During long workouts, lasting 90 minutes or greater: Electrolyte loss tends to impact performance when an athlete has been exercising for at least 90 minutes. If it is extremely hot, this window will likely shorten to 60 minutes.

Most team sport practices do not last much longer than two hours in the summer heat, but this is long enough to see a performance decline due to dehydration. If you have a long hour workout or practice scheduled, you may want to bring along a bottle of SaltStick.

Hot weather, in general: Regardless of how acclimatized you are to the heat, you will sweat much more in hot weather than cold weather. Thus, you will lose more electrolytes.

If you are a salty sweater: Some people simply have higher concentrations of sodium in their sweat than others. You can take special lab tests to measure the exact sodium content of your sweat, or you can do a simple taste test. If your sweat tastes really salty or if your clothes routinely end up caked in salt residue, you are probably a salty sweater. This means you will need to replace sodium more often than the average athlete.

What should you do about electrolytes?

In most cases, a diet with an abundance of nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables will greatly assist in replacing lost electrolytes. These foods contain high amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. As for sodium, your body is very good at letting you know when you need to consume more. If you are craving something salty (especially if you worked out hard in the sun), salt your food to taste.

If you are curious about what this looks like day-to-day, the folks at Pro Stock Hockey have a nutrition guide* oriented toward a healthy diet that fits in the required nutrients. While the guide is geared toward hockey players, it can be applied to most team sports athletes, who have similar caloric, hydration and nutrient needs.


Click the arrows in the bottom right hand corner to expand to full screen.

Where does SaltStick fit in?

While you can consume most of your electrolytes through diet, if you experience any of the conditions above (not acclimatized, salty sweater, etc.), you will need to take extra steps during your workouts to prevent low electrolyte levels. This is important for two reasons:

Once nasty side effect of drinking too much while not consuming enough sodium is hyponatremia, which can lead to nausea, fatigue, cramping, vomiting, weakness, sleepiness, and in rare severe cases, even death.

Cramping is also a common side effect of low electrolyte levels in team sports athletes. Replacing the full spectrum of electrolytes through a source such as SaltStick can help reduce cramping during training and competing.

Sports drinks are not enough. Sweat typically has about 1000 mg sodium/liter; however, a typical sports drink has only about 440 mg sodium/liter. If, during the course of competing or training, you ingest nothing but sports drinks (or worse, water), you will become hyponatremic at some point. Many sports drinks also do not include the other key electrolytes such as magnesium and calcium, potentially causing yet further cramping and muscle issues.

The great thing is that we make it easy for you to replace these lost electrolytes. SaltStick Caps have been formulated to provide your body with a balanced electrolyte content in the suggested serving of 1 capsule per 30-60 minutes. Two SaltStick Caps in an hour equate to 430 mg sodium, 126 mg potassium, 22 mg magnesium, and 44 mg calcium per hour: This is the ideal ratio to keep you moving.

What do team sports athletes say about SaltStick products?

If you need a second opinion, we have that as well. For more information and feedback about how SaltStick can help your performance as a team sport athlete, visit this page. Some of our favorite quotes are below:

“I play college soccer for a fairly small school who doesn’t have a good recruiting program. What this means is that I play the full 90 minutes without a break. I know some people are fine with just water at halftime, but in 109 °F sprinting for 90 minutes, water isn’t enough. I’ve absolutely felt a difference taking these during a game – one before start, and one at halftime. Instead of cramping and feeling my head throb, I feel energized and ready for the next half.” — Amazon User Moses Arevalo. Get the full review here.

“I love these. I play soccer and ultimate Frisbee for over two hours at a time and sweat a lot. I take these during water breaks and I can feel my endurance stay at a peak level.” — Amazon User SM2Jones. Get the full review here.

“Saltstick is my savior. I sweat profusely and cramp up. This allows me to play bball flag football and other activities longer.” — Amazon User Damon. Get the full review here.

Conclusion

As an athlete of any kind, it is important to remember that nutrition is a critical component of success. Do not let bad hydration practices impact your performance. Recognize the importance of electrolytes, and take the necessary steps to ensure you are getting enough.

If you are interested in learning more about SaltStick and team sports, you can visit this page.

*Nutrition Guide from Pro Stock Hockey, an online source for cheap hockey sticks