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The Importance of Electrolytes and Hydration at High Altitude

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 11, 2017 10:00:00 AM / by Michele Yates

 Electrolytes at High Altitude

Electrolytes and hydration are an important aspect of your overall health. To get an better start understanding electrolytes, we will begin to explore them in the context of high altitude. For athletes—and especially high-altitude athletes—electrolyte balance is critical to maintain optimal athletic performance and safety. You need to be feeling your best on that fourteener (mountain-person parlance for "14,000-foot mountain")

A critical component up in high country is monitoring your electrolyte balance, as it helps you combat altitude sickness and nausea.  Electrolytes aren't just salt. They are comprised of Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Chloride, Bicarbonate, and Hydrogen phosphate (what we sweat out!).  In order to replenish these important minerals effectively, I suggest drinking natural spring water (as opposed to electrolyte drink mixes) and consuming salt stick salt tabs, which have all the electrolytes at the ratio you need.

In addition, ingest one 300 mg salt tab (SaltStick brand is good) an hour with some solid food. The food you consume naturally contains sodium, which assists in replenishing your important minerals. When mixed with the salt stick, consuming one half of a carbohydrate energy gel packet every hour with a good few chugs of water is a good option as well. 

Weather and nighttime conditions are another story and may alter the need for salt tabs. For example, when it's really cold, your body doesn't require as much, so you could take a tab every two hours.  Be mindful to not eat high sodium foods during this process, though. Too much beef jerky or salted nuts can throw your balance off. Instead, opt for low-sodium or no-sodium options to help keep a healthy medium.

Typically, you should aim to drink 24–28 ounces of water every hour, monitoring your hydration and electrolyte levels by observing your urine. Voiding light yellow urine every hour or two would be considered healthy.  If your urine is a deeper yellow and you aren't going very often, then you need to drink more natural spring water. If your urine is clearer and you are going a lot, then you likely need more electrolytes and should consider backing off of the water for a bit.  Again, take into consideration the conditions—if it's a warm day, you may need to increase both.

My final tip is to suggest that you eat early in your activity and eat and drink often (every 15 minutes!).   Go prepared with healthy items suitable for performance and never forget to hydrate!


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Topics: Hydration, Eldorado Springs, Award-Winning Water

Michele Yates

Written by Michele Yates

Michele is a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon and a four-time USATF National Team member in the mountain and ultra trail events, representing the US at the World and NACAC Championships. She has completed over twenty marathons, with nine wins, and still holds numerous course records at the elite level. She is a four-time National Champion in the ultra trail events and has numerous course records and wins in trail and ultra races. Michele was also crowned Ms. Figure Colorado in 2008 where she had no less than a top-two finish in each event she competed in within the year. She is a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.