What are some examples of salt pills

Salt tablets in endurance sports - are they really useful?

Saline tablets: They are supposed to help the athlete with long endurance exertion - (Photo: Triathlon-Tipps.de)

On the penultimate kilometer they stood at the lanterns: runners of a marathon trying to stretch out their calf cramps on the bars, the goal almost in front of their eyes. There are several causes of cramps, but many endurance athletes report improvement when taking salt tablets during long sessions.

Why use salt tablets in endurance sports?

The thesis: When sweating, endurance athletes not only excrete water. Urea and minerals are also flushed out, above all sodium chloride - in other words: table salt. Many athletes associate it with cramps and other symptoms of failure.

To avoid this, some endurance athletes take salt tablets. Since these tablets were first used in cross-country skiing in Sweden, they are often called Sweden tablets.

What is it now? It is absolutely true that when you sweat you excrete salt. However: Scientists today see it in a more nuanced way. So there was the English book “Waterlogged” by Timothy D. Noakes. In it, the employee of the University of Cape Town and experienced ultra runners claims that the body itself takes good care of the salt balance, as long as you don't drink too much (because that's on the plan) and thus slide into hyponatremia.

Read here: muscle cramps during sport. How it comes about and how it can be counteracted.

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Salt tablets against muscle cramps during endurance sports

It is true that salt is excreted in sweat, but the body stops this excretion through sweating as soon as there is a certain balance. Noakes says (1): Even in the heat, it is sufficient to drink when you feel thirsty without adding extra salt, provided that you use a sensible speed strategy - in other words: Don't gamble.

In addition, Noakes notes something that comes from a 2004 study. It says:

"There are no clinically significant alterations in serum electrolyte concentrations and there is no alteration in hydration status in runners with EAMC participating in an ultra-distance race."

In German this means something like:

“There is no direct connection between the electrolytes in the blood of runners and muscle spasms. So the pills for cramps can't help at all? "

But what if the nutritional strategy depends entirely on liquids, i.e. some or all of the carbohydrates are absorbed through drinks. This diet is now preferred by some athletes, who can receive very individual mixtures.

A study from 2002 writes about this:

"Sodium replacement is recommended for ultradistance athletes to enhance the absorption of glucose, and to partially correct any sodium losses in sweat and urine."

German about:

"Salt substitutes are recommended for ultra-distance athletes to improve the absorption of glucose and partially compensate for the loss of sodium through sweat and urine."

In addition, there are many positive reports from athletes who have consumed salt in long races and at least believe that they have significantly fewer problems as a result. A placebo effect?

In the end, there is one recommendation that I make a lot: try it out carefully on yourself. Regardless of whether it is a placebo effect or whether it actually improves something - as long as it banishes muscle cramps in one, for example, there is nothing to be said against the careful use of salt tablets. I also took them during the long distance - I only had cramps after the race due to a magnesium deficiency.

The dose must be tested individually, by the way, an overdose has more negative effects. I've heard of one to four salt dragees an hour. Of course, that also depends on the exact composition of the tablets.

Transport of the salt tablets

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So salt tablets might be helpful for a triathlon, but they have a practical disadvantage: They are small. Tiny. And fumbling while cycling to pull out the Swedish tablets forces you to at least give up your aero position, if not to drive less safely. Even when you're running, looking for the little pills isn't fun.

So what to do Many triathletes use the small doses or dispensers of other coated tablets. For example from Tic Tac or Smint. They are reasonably easy to grasp and can dispense coated tablets.

The solution of carrying salt tablets in your jersey pocket has one disadvantage: If you sweat until then or it rains on it, the salt tablets magically attract the moisture and begin to turn into a white paste.

On my long distance, I carried the salt tablets with me in a latch pocket that had a small extra compartment on the side. That went quite well for cycling. When I ran, I had some in a small one
cut up freezer bags.

Two tricks that I still read about on the web: Some like to take salt crackers with them (Tuc, for example) and break off pieces each time. Others actually take table salt as a powder, dip their fingers in it and lick it off.

What is your experience with salt tablets? Write to me in the comments.


(1) Nolte, Heinrich W., Timothy D. Noakes, and Bernard Van Vuuren. "Trained humans can exercise safely in extreme dry heat when drinking water ad libitum." Journal of sports sciences December 29 (2011): 1233-1241.
(2) Schwellnus, M.P., et al. "Serum electrolyte concentrations and hydration status are not associated with exercise associated muscle cramping (EAMC) in distance runners." Br J Sports Med 38 (2004): 488-492.
(3) Kimber, Nicholas E., et al. "Energy balance during an ironman triathlon in male and female triathletes." International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 12 (2002): 47-62.

Tags: nutrition, long distance, drinking, competition

One answer to "Salt tablets in endurance sports - are they really useful?"

  1. The same problem is noticeable when climbing over 1000 meters of altitude a day. I help myself with 1-2 dried tomatoes, which are very salty and always have magnesium (400 mg capsules) with me. In old age (I'm 70), the magnesium requirement can increase significantly. My basic supply is 800 mg / day. This can go up to 1600 mg on a rigorous mountain tour. You don't have cramps or sore muscles. Salt also binds water in the body. That is why I pay attention to the addition of salt during intense sporting activities.

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