Salt is not evil.

It seems to me that salt gets a very bad press generally. Many people do not add salt to their food because they fear high blood pressure will be the result. If you eat lots of processed foods, then you probably are getting an overdose of added salt, but if, like many, including myself, you have eliminated most processed food from your diet and are eating mainly real foods, then there is a serious danger that you may not be getting enough salt, especially if you train a lot or are a profuse sweater. Everybody knows now to drink plenty of water but, if you only drink water and exercise hard, you can, in effect still be dehydrated, even if your urine is clear and not dark.

I discovered this through my own experience. Long runs drinking lots of water, then returning home, drinking more water, urinating like crazy, yet still many symptoms of dehydration, including headaches. So I started adding a little table salt to most of my drinks and, hey presto, the headaches disappeared and I didn’t urinate so much. The reason is that our bodies need sodium in order to pull the fluid out of the small intestine to send where needed, otherwise all that water just sits in the small intestine. There needs to be a certain ratio of sodium to water for this process to occur and the more plain water you drink the more the sodium and other electrolytes become diluted. Incidentally, we also require potassium and a small amount of glucose and sucrose for this process to happen. Unfortunately most sports drinks contain way too much of these, so, if you use them, it’s a good idea to dilute by around 50%. It’s also interesting to note that a protein drink after exercise also helps us to absorb fluids better post training.

Personally, my way of dealing with hydration now, both in daily life and training, and during long distance triathlons or ultra marathons, is to still drink mostly water, but to add a very small amount of salt to this. I also salt my food, but not excessively. I use High 5 electrolyte tablets often too during racing and training, but fairly dilute – maybe half a tablet in my water bottles. I also have a whey protein drink with milk after hard exercise. This regime ensures that I am adequately hydrated at all times and also speeds up recovery and improves performance.

For more information on this and other fitness topics, please see my other blog posts or send me an email at What are your experiences with hydration and dehydration? I’d like to know.

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