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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trip report and elyte thoughts

I had a fabulous backpacking trip and can recommend Pt. Reyes National Seashore without reservation. It’s extremely horse friendly (hitching posts all over) and the trails are well maintained. I’m not sure what other accommodations are available beyond fabulous trails for the equestrian, but for the backpackers, there are some very neat hike in campsites, with ready access to the beach.

Fair warning – this is a mostly non-horse related post, except for the electrolyte comments near the end.

Unfortunately the trip wasn’t an easy one for me. It’s tough to have something physically wrong with you when you are on vacation, trying to have fun, and when you’re with other people and trying not to drag them down into your personal health drama.

Day 1 I was ill – found out beyond a doubt that gluten is a major problem for me. Fortunately, the only gluten containing food I brought to eat was some (delicious) cookies. I gave them up without too much sacrifice – it’s funny, when something makes you feel absolutely sick, no matter how delicious you used to think it was, the desire to eat it is gone. Thus milkshakes, bread, and cookies that were once my favorite treats only elicit shudders. I had already made the decision to cut out most grains from my diet about 8 weeks ago, however, instead of an occasional indulgence here and there, I say good bye to gluten for good. I’m happy that I’ve finally figured out what has been going on. I’ve felt sick in a low-level type of way for a while, but was never able to pin it on something specific. I hate being one of those people who seems to constantly have something wrong with them and is complaining about every little thing, but hopefully non-fermented milk products and gluten completes my list of foods that I can’t tolerate and I can go forth and have low-drama levels when it comes to personal health!

Day 2 started out well. I was feeling much better and we started out for our longest day of hiking. Early into the hike we got involved in a beach rescue that resulted in us sitting on an exposed, hot beach for a couple of hours. I think I started to get dehydrated a bit, even though it seemed like I was drinking a ton of water. The rescue made the day much longer than anticipated, and going on numerous side trips added ~2 more miles than anticipated. I ran out of water for the last 40 minutes of hiking. By the time I got to camp I felt SICK from allergies. I felt like I had swallowed a large furry rat, and was COMPLETELY congested. I had Claritin with me, which I had been taking religiously during the trip, but I went ahead and doubled the dose. I drank water like crazy, but was always thristy and felt dehydrated (even though by all visible signs I was hydrated). I chalked it up to severe allergies to some sort of pollen on the coast. Lovely. Did my best to convince myself I was NOT going to suffocate to death from the large furry rat in my throat.

Day 3 my allergies were still bugging me big time, and I had sunburnt my legs. I had a tough time during the hike, even though it was only 5.5 miles of easy trail. I felt disoriented, my calves were sore, and no matter how much water I drank, I still felt thirsty. Now, I know that my readers are screaming right now “ELYTES!!!!” – but I didn’t make the connection until I was driving home and started to get crampy and shivery and realized….”this is how I feel after 100’s…..this is an ELYTE ISSUE!!!!” I think the reason I didn’t make the connection was in part due to my allergies – my head was so congested it was hard to separate all the various physical things that were going on. I had been doing really well in the sodium category, but I really needed potassium. As soon as I started consuming potassium I felt much much better. I caught it much sooner on the hike than I do at an endurance ride. It really surprised me that I had an issue at all – the hike and the weather were moderate, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything strenuous. But, I think the allergies probably contributed more than I realized. I’ve realized that the warning signs that I need to start thinking about electrolytes are:

1. I feel thirsty and “unsatisfied” when I drink, even though by all signs (urine output/color, amount drank etc.) I should be hydrated.

2. I have any calf pain at all. Even if it could attributed to soreness, assume elyte cramp

3. I start to feel disoriented (this is a tricky one because my allergies were affecting my inner ear)

4. When I start to feel a bit “icky stomach” after eating something that previously agreed with my well – probably the start of nausea

5. The snack that is the highest in salt all of a sudden is the BEST snack EVER. I had made a homemade trail mix with dried fruit, nuts and seeds that I had made “salty/sweet” with lots of sea salt (and touch of honey) and then roasted.

Based on my experiences during the trip, I need to get electrolytes for use on any long, physical-in-nature, type activity. I had been holding off on getting anything because I’m not going to be doing 100’s for a while, but obviously it’s an issue at other times too… today I finally got serious about looking into my options.

FACT: I need it to have significant potassium levels. Potassium is what I’m lacking. At home, I eat a TON of bananas – it’s my favorite fruit – which probably takes care of my daily activites. The problem is when I go on these rides or trips – bananas don’t pack well - and although I may be meeting my sodium requirements, I’ll often not feel very good until I can eat something with significant potassium in it.

FACT: I’m looking for a supplement – not a food. I’ve tried getting my electrolytes through food, and for reasons discussed in earlier posts, at least for now I need something that’s as easy as a pill or sucking down a small bottle of water.

FACT: It can’t have artificial sweetners. It can’t be too sweet. It has to sit in my stomach well. Bonus if it doesn’t taste too chemically when luke warm.

I looked at 4 different electrolyte mixes that I can get before this weekend (I have another event this weekend that I’ll need to have them on hand). Here was my thought process for choosing one. For endurance, it’s going to be critical that I’m able to find a good electrolyte, so even though I’ll be using it in non-endurance venues for now, I will keep you guys updated!

For comparison – Gatorade (I’m using this as the base line because I think most people are familiar with Gatorade)

Sweetened with: Sucrose/dextrose

Na:K ratio – 10:3

Form: available in bulk powder and in packets

Reasoning: Rejected. Gatorade is too chemically tasting for me, the potassium is really low, and Gatorade doesn’t sit in my stomach well.

Sweetened with: Glucose

Na:K ratio – 7:10

Form: available in bulk powder and in packets

Reasoning: Number 1 choice. I tolerate glucose fairly well, and this was the only one of my choices that had more potassium than sodium in it. Most of the time I do get enough sodium, so this will be perfect compliment to what I normally eat on trips.

NUUN active
Sweetened with Sorbitol and ? (once I got to sorbitol I quit reading)

Na:K ratio – 18:5

Form – dissolving tablets

Reasoning: as soon as I saw sorbitol it was out for me. It tastes nasty and does not settle well on my stomach.

GU Electrolyte Brew
Sweetened with maltodextrin and fructose

Na:K ratio – 25:4

Form: Available in bulk powder

Reasoning: Too low in potassium content

Nathan Catalyst
Sweetened with: Fructose and dextrose

Na:K ratio – 27:12

Form: Dissolving tablets

Reasoning: My number 2 choice. If I’m not sure I’ve gotten enough sodium, I will use these. The tablets will also be convenient to carry with me on day hikes or other trips, when I’m not sure I’ll need electrolytes, but need to carry them just in case. The sweetener isn’t as idea; and I’m not sure how I’ll handle it, but since honey is a fructose/dextrose combo and I tolerate well, I’m willing to give it a try.

I think a lot of these problems I discovered this weekend (gluten/allergies/elytes) were occurring at endurance rides, but because of the extra stress of having the horse there and the extreme physical aspect of it, it was hard to pinpoint the exact cause of my problems. I feel like I have a much clearer idea now of some of the physical pitfalls I was unknowingly dealing with (gluten), and maybe some issues I should have been more aggressive in dealing with (allergies) while doing 100’s.


  1. Also try the Pedialyte powder packs when you get a chance. The Na:K ratio is roughly 2:1 and it is sweetened with dextrose. Drop a couple of these packets into a regular water bottle (20oz), shake and you're good to go. Works really well for me at rides. I prefer the apple flavor, it's the least artificial-tasting.

  2. This may be something you already do, but have you tried using KCl instead of regular salt?

  3. Ditto with Dom on the salt option. I believe you can purchase it in the grocery store as "Lite salt".

    I usually take K pill when I'm dehydrated, but then I don't tend to have stomach upset like you do, so that option might not work for you. I've heard of folks using a liquid potassium supplement that you just add to water, but I have personally not tried it so I can't vouch for it. Maybe something to consider?

  4. Rescue? Not sure if I should be picturing a landed whale or a human incident.

  5. Found out about these at an Ultra 50 mile run. Using them on endurance rides ever since. I have not ever felt sick at Tevis using these. Easy to carry, take with water

  6. Not sure about carrying it on you but try out pure coconut water. It's one of the better electrolyte's out there and it's natural, although I don't know about the NA:K ratio..


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