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As an endurance runner, I have long runs both on Saturdays and Sundays. So far I drink either water or Gatorade. If I drink only water on a 2-4 hour run, that is supposed to burn some fat. However, I would still like to compensate for the loss of electrolytes without taking in all those calories from Gatorade.

What would you recommend? I am somewhat experienced, completed more than 20 marathons and ultras. I am not very much concerned with speed at this time, but I would rather lose some weight.

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Why do you want to "compensate for the loss of electrolytes". What are these electrolytes? Do you even know? –  Lego Stormtroopr Jan 20 at 3:17
    
Check out hammer nutrition's endurolytes. They're popular in the cycling/triathlon community –  BZink Jan 20 at 19:19
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4 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I've heard of people who train their bodies to work better burning fat on long runs by running without a sports drink. However, the fat burning metabolic system produces energy at a much slower rate than the sugar burning one. This is where 'the wall' cones from.

The suggestion above to use electrolyte drink is a good one. You could also consider supplementing with salt capsules. Thermolyte and S-Caps are two brands I know.

For sufficiently long runs in sufficiently warm weather you definitely want to do this. As you sweat and as your muscles burn you will lose sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

You need sodium and potassium to be balanced as you sweat them out. The concentration in your blood needs to be within a narrow range else you run the risk of such deadly conditions as hyponatremia.

Calcium and magnesium are used by your muscles to signal contractions. If you run out then you will cramp.

This is why electrolyte drinks and salt tabs have this 4 minerals. The magnesium and calcium will be a much smaller amount than the other two.

When you use a salt tab be very sure to take it with lots of water. They are concentrated enough that if they dissolve by themselves in your stomach then your stomach will detect this and you will throw up. I've done this twice!

Karl King's water/electrolyte balance table is a very valuable resource to have on hand because it helps tell the difference between a number of conditions and what action to take.

Statement of the Second International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, New Zealand, 2007. is a great source for the raw science.

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Thermolyte worked for me. Thanks! –  Alex Jan 31 at 16:36
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If you're running that far/long, I wouldn't be concerned with the calories from gatorade as much I would be the quantity and quality of calories from the rest of my diet. Looking at the nutrition of a bulk gatorade powder, a 20oz has about 134 calories in it, and @ 34g of sugar those calories are pretty much all from sugar. However, from experience, all electrolyte replenishers I've seen on the market have a high sugar content, probably to hide the saltiness of electrolytes. I'd be interested to know of any on the market that don't.

Marathon running will burn calories, not necessarily fat, at least not fat alone. It will burn calories whether you drink water or gatorade or anything else, to lose weight you require a calorie deficit. There are other questions on the site that breakdown steady state cardio and what it does for weight loss, so I'll point you here!

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+1: Running for 2-4 hours will expend a LOT more calories than you would consume by drinking a sufficient amount of Gatorade needed to maintain electrolytic balance. One hour of jogging will typically burn about 600-900 kcal, depending on body weight; full running uses even more, 800-1200 kcal. You won't need to drink ten 20-oz. bottles of Gatorade per hour to avoid dehydration. –  heropup Jan 20 at 5:04
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Here's the thing: if your concern is caloric intake, then as I noted in my previous comment, that's not important. If your concern is excessive sugar intake, in particular fructose intake, then maybe you can start with an artificially-sweetened electrolyte drink. If your concern is excessive sugar and artificial sweeteners and artificial coloring, then this was the best I could find through a web search: http://www.vitacost.com/emergen-c-electro-mix-natural-lemon-lime

However, note that it does not contain any sodium, which to me, is a little odd because sodium is an electrolyte, and hyponatremia is a concern on very long runs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyponatremia But since we're talking just plain salt...honestly, add in a bit of table salt to the powder. How much, I dunno--I'm not a doctor or exercise physiologist.

I've never run for more than an hour at a time so I'm not one to talk, but personally, I would much sooner be willing to consume some sugar during a marathon than risk hyponatremia.

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There are a number of brands of electrolyte drinks without many calories or sugar. Most of these are in the form of tablets, which dissolve in water. Some examples:

  • Nuun - 8 calories per 500ml
  • High Five Zero - zero calories
  • SIS Go Hydro - 7 calories per 500ml

There is also bulk electrolyte powder available. This is usually cheaper than tablets, but it means you have to measure it out yourself. And it may not dissolve as well in water. eg My Protein Electrolyte powder.

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