I have been doing lots of long distance rides this summer. I have been wondering whether I would suffer from not drinking Gatorade-like drinks or taking salt tablets in very hot weather. Yesterday, I asked Dr. Fuhrman (http://www.drfuhrman.com/), one of my main sources of health information, about a low salt eating style and whether it poses special challenges for endurance sports. Here is my question and his response?
My Question: "I have been following ETL (plant-based) diet for over a year, including no added salt. My salt intake is well under 1000 mg per day (as measured by Cron-o-Meter). I was worried about cramping on my long distance bike rides. I have done many rides in very hot weather this summer, including three 100 mile events. I do not take electrolyte supplements. On the bike I drink water mixed with organic apple juice (50/50) and add regular apple juice at convenience stores when I replenish. I carry homemade trail mix (oats, raw nuts/seeds, dates, raisins) and bananas on the bike. I'll eat clean fresh fruit at rest stops or convenience stores, if available.
Absolutely no cramping and my energy level is very high. I feel better at the end of long, hot rides than I have ever felt before following this regimen. Yesterday, at the end of the ride many of my Gatorade and salt table consuming fellow riders didn't fare as well.
This is an 'experiment of one', but am I correct in concluding that all the marketing around the need for electrolyte replacement drinks for athletes is a myth? And, is no salt better than salt and electrolyte supplementation for long distance athletes? I also assume that it is the entire package that works best....ETL plus low salt. Correct?"
Dr. Fuhrman's Answer: "Right. and because you have acclimated yourself to a low salt program, your body learns to be efficient and excretes less sodium in the sweat and urine, so the losses are less.
A person eating conventionally and taking salt, will pour out much more salt in their urine and sweat.
The problem arises when a person who is taking in lots of sodium suddenly stops, but their urine and sweat is still pouring out a lot. Then their performance could suffer and they could feel fatique.
I certainly think what you are doing is the healthiest way to go."