Saltines have many uses I am certain you are aware of — settling a thrashing stomach, crumbling into perpendicular lines in your tomato bisque for a pleasing presentation, substituting for toast when you want something to spread jam on and have conveniently forgotten to purchase a loaf of bread.* Saltines even have uses you may not have considered yet, such as dueling your family members in the Saltine challenge, or gluing sparkles to the crackers and stringing them with fishing line to hang on your holiday tree.**
As sublime as Saltines are however, if you find yourself not just tasting like a crispy treat, but looking like one as well after a workout, you could be in trouble. It is normal to be salty after a run (don’t believe me? Give yourself a lick). According to “Salt and Runners” from RunthePlanet.com, “The amount of sodium in sweat averages about 500 milligrams sodium per pound of sweat (and ranges from 220 to 1,100 milligrams). If you lose two pounds of sweat per hour for four hours of sweaty running, your sodium losses can become significant (4,000 milligrams of sodium).” Salt loss increases in the heat, too, which makes sense as you sweat more when the thermometer climbs. And while it is inevitable that you lose some salt as you workout, if you are building up salt residue that you can see on your skin, it could be a warning sign. ***
Being a salty sweater (as opposed to the ugly sweater you keep in your dresser for theme parties) should ring a few caution bells. For starters, low sodium levels can cause muscle cramping. But that is the least serious concern. Salt deposits are also a sign of dehydration, which, besides being extremely unhealthy, can have dire consequences. Medicinenet.com says
“As fluid loss increases, the patient may be so dehydrated that there is not enough water to sweat and heat exhaustion or heat stroke may occur. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency…In dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities may occur since important chemicals (like sodium and potassium) are lost from the body through sweat…causing muscle weakness and heart rhythm disturbances. Some examples of symptoms caused by abnormal electrolyte levels include muscle weakness due to low potassium, heart rhythm disturbances due to either low or high potassium, and seizures due to low sodium.” ****
Lots of fun stuff, right?
There are more salt-loss issues, too. More formally known as “hypokalemia,” low potassium is another concern for athletes. Potassium sounds like some mystical substance – we are told to eat bananas in order to get this electrolyte, but we are never told why. What it does is simple: potassium keeps your muscles moving, your nerves sending messages to your brain faster than the pony express, your kidneys filtering, and quite literally, your heart beating. Low potassium can lead to heart failure. Yikes.
Fear not, if bananas do not inflate your hot air balloon. Potassium is found in potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, strawberries, spinach, dried fruits, beans and peanuts. I swear I firmly believe in a spoonful of peanut butter for a runner – protein, healthy fats, healthy minerals, and now potassium? That substance is miracle food.
Last, losing salt (which means you’re losing water and electrolytes) can also mean you’re losing energy. If you’re feeling tired, and particularly unmotivated, you may need some sodium to sparkle up. Or, you may just need a glass of water. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day before you run ensures you are hydrated properly, and wards off the consequences of dehydration. Your body will adjust to drinking more water with time, and you will simply feel better if you do not let yourself be thirsty.
If you are concerned about potassium levels, I am a firm believer that eating fresh foods (as opposed to electrolyte supplements) is the best way to take in vital ingredients for your body chemistry. The healthier you are in what you eat, the healthier you will be as you run.
* But don’t substitute for using to make French toast if you are out of bread; it works out less well.
** The Saltine Challenge: to eat six Saltines in one minute. Good luck.