Salt Tablets For Runners: Pros & Cons, For Sweaty Runners, Plain Water Drinkers

Salt tablets are a popular running aid for two types of runners in particular: salty sweaters, and plain water drinkers. Whether you should take salt tablets to improve your race day performance will depend largely on whether you fall in to one of these two groups.

Electrolytes and hydration are especially crucial to a healthy running regimen – whether sports drinks or salt tablets are the electrolyte balancer of choice, they shouldn’t be neglected. 

Although sports drinks are often more popular, not all athletes like using them as their primary source of electrolytes. Some prefer salt tablets. But what are salt tablets, how do they work and will they help you achieve your goals on race day? Is there any science behind this emerging trend of taking salt supplements before a race?

Below, we’ll show you when and how salt tablets can be helpful for running. If you want to cross the finish line on race day cramp-free, achieving the correct sodium levels is key.

How Sweating Can Affect A Runner’s Salt Levels

Salt tablets runner, sweaty

Running is a high-effort sport that causes our bodies to sweat – a lot. Sweat is a mixture of the body’s water and salt stores and is a natural response to activity to maintain a balance in body temperature. You may have noticed your sweat is a bit salty – that’s because of the sodium excreted while sweating up a storm on those long runs or interval sessions. 

As the water component of your sweat evaporates from the surface of your skin, it creates a cooling sensation that can help bring down your body temperature while you run. Sweating enough – and maintaining healthy hydration levels – is especially important when you’re logging your miles in higher temperatures. 

When sweat cannot be produced fast enough because your sodium levels are out of whack and you aren’t taking on enough fluid, your body can’t cool down quickly enough, and issues like heat stroke may occur. 

Don’t ever feel embarrassed about a sweaty back, chest, face, or pits – it’s natural and a signal that your body is doing exactly what it should be doing! 

How Salt Tablets Can Compensate For Sweating

Salt tablets (also called sodium tablets) are electrolyte tablets that are composed of sodium and chloride. These salt supplements replenish your sodium stores as they’re depleted by excessive sweating from exercise. Some salt tablets also contain essential minerals like magnesium and potassium. Salt tablets can also help improve hydration during exercise and prevent heat-related illness after exercise. 

If you’re an experienced runner or athlete, you likely understand the importance of staying hydrated with fluids and electrolytes before, during, and after a strenuous endurance workout (and, in general, really). 

Maintaining hydration and mineral stores in the body is essential to performing well with optimal health. Reduced sodium levels in the body can lead to muscle cramps, signaling that your body is dehydrated and needs an electrolyte and salt boost. 

What Do Electrolytes Have To Do With Salt Tablets?

Electrolytes and salt tablets go hand-in-hand. Sodium is an essential electrolyte that is the primary component of salt tablets. Electrolytes are the minerals that are essential to helping your body function in its optimal performance state. Your body is designed to keep itself balanced – especially in electrolyte balance.

There could be many reasons why your electrolyte balance is off-kilter. A lack of electrolytes in the body could be caused by: 

  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Inadequate diet and not consuming nutrient-dense foods
  • Loss of body fluids through (in this case) sweating
  • Above-average blood pH levels 
  • Hormonal or endocrine disruption

Of all the essential minerals that your body needs to function well, sodium is the quickest to leave your body. Because sodium is highly concentrated in sweat, tears, and urine, it’s most sensitive to dipping below equilibrium. Replenishing your body with sodium, especially on and after long runs, is incredibly important. This can be achieved with salt tablets.

How Do I Know That My Sodium Levels Are Too Low?

There are a few general symptoms that you may experience that are indicators that you need to give your body an electrolyte boost. Some of the most common include:

  • Sluggishness
  • Fatigue and low energy 
  • Vomiting 
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle spasms

Hyponatremia can occur if your sodium dips drastically below your body’s required sodium level. 

What Types Of Runners Can Benefit From Salt Tablets?

Salt tablets for runners

Salt tablets are meant to help restore the body’s equilibrium of salt, as running causes a lot of sweat loss. This form of electrolyte is highly effective for runners that cramp, sweat a lot, or only ingest plain water before, during, and after their runs. Long-distance runners are notorious for drinking too much water without replenishing their salt levels, flushing out their bodies’ natural minerals and salts. 

Sodium loss (from sweating) varies from runner to runner. This depends on factors like a runner’s body weight, hormones, water consumption pre-run, level of exertion, clothing worn during a run, and conditions like hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). 

Using salt tablets as an electrolyte replenisher is a great way for you to be proactive in preventing heat cramps, especially if you’ve been susceptible to cramping in the past. Marathon and long-distance runners can take salt tablets before and during their long runs to avoid cramps associated with depleting electrolyte levels. 

Studies suggest that using salt tablets during a workout can help prevent dehydration in athletes. The sodium chloride salt tablet and water solution helps athletes retain fluid during exercise. Your body is healthiest when the water-sodium levels are just right and aren’t fluctuating too far from normal. 

For most runners, drinking enough water and eating a nutrient-dense diet is enough to keep the body’s systems in tip-top shape. Salt tablets can be helpful supplements for runners that need a little boost. 

Benefits of Using Salt Tablets For Running

There are 5 known benefits to taking salt tablets:

  • Improved hydration during exercise, especially if it is an endurance workout.
  • Maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes in the body after exercise. 
  • Can help prevent muscle cramping. 
  • For some, this could be an effective application in treating hyponatremia.
  • Prevention of dehydration in certain situations.  

Consuming salt tablets with adequate fluids will help you restore your natural sodium levels and help your body retain more fluid during your long training runs. 

Because muscle cramping during exercise is caused by a series of factors, there is no evidence that salt tablets will prevent muscle cramping 100% of the time. For many endurance athletes and long-distance runners, however, they seem to help. 

Risks of Using Salt Tablets For Running

Salt tablets can become hazardous when not taken correctly or in reasonable doses. There are 3 instances in which ingesting salt tablets becomes ineffective or detrimental for a runner: 

  • If not taken with enough water (or no water at all), salt tablets can lead to worsened dehydration. 
  • If too high of a dosage is taken, runners could experience hypernatremia: the condition in which your body has too much sodium. 
  • It could cause a minorly upset stomach, especially if not paired with enough water. 

Salt tablets are not for everyone, and not all runners respond positively to them.

Some runners may feel off or overly thirsty after taking a tablet. Listen to your body and trust it. If salt tablets don’t help you beat electrolyte imbalance or make you feel out-of-sorts, they may not be the sodium supplement for you. There are many other electrolyte supplements available that you may notice fuel you better for higher-performance runs.

Possible Side Effects of Using Salt Tablets

Salt tablets should not cause any side effects when used as per the recommended dosage. However, if you take more than recommended, you may experience hypernatremia. This is a condition where there’s excess salt in the body. 

Symptoms of hypernatremia include: 

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Thirst
  • Tongue swelling 
  • Headache 
  • Racing heart 
  • High blood pressure 

If you notice any of the above systems after taking a salt tablet, you should refrain from ingesting more and call a doctor immediately. 

If you have any preexisting conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, you should avoid salt tablets altogether. They could put you at a higher risk of experiencing more serious side effects. 

What Are The Best Types of Salt Tablets for Runners?

Not all salt tablets are created with endurance athletes in mind. We have created a list of salt tablets best suited for runners to make your search easier. 

  • SaltStick Caps – one of the most trusted and popular salt tablets for runners, SaltStick Caps are free of fillers and dissolve quickly to help replenish electrolytes due to sweating. It is suggested to take one capsule per 30 to 60 minutes of strenuous exercise. 
  • Base Electrolyte Salt – this dissolvable salt tablet dissolves under the tongue and contains 84 essential minerals that combat muscle cramps and fluid imbalance. 
  • Elite Electrolyte Tablets – the Elite Electrolyte tablet contains high sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels to reduce muscle cramping. This capsule is most effective before, during, and after workouts that last longer than an hour.
  • Safrel Sodium Chloride Tablets – this is the perfect option for runners that prefer to dissolve their tablets in water. For high-quality, affordable isotonic sodium chloride solution, Safrel tablets are a green light. 
  • SaltStick FastChews – if you prefer chewable salt tablets, these electrolyte replacement tablets are dissolvable and chewable so that electrolytes can be more rapid-acting. Because of the lower dosage in this supplement, runners are advised to take 1 to 2 chews per 20 minutes of high-intensity activity. 

Before you start taking any supplements or salt tablets, be sure to do your research. Find a reputable company, ask your other runner friends for input, and maybe try a few different options. 

Important: Don’t try salt tablets for the first time on race day!

Find your electrolyte supplement of choice and use them during training runs so your body is used to them come race day, and you’ll be golden! 

When Should I Consider Adding Salt Tablets To My Running Routine? 

There are two scenarios where salt tablet inclusion into your routine could be helpful. You may need to consider bringing salt tablets along for your training sessions if you are a major sweater or only drink plain water instead of electrolyte-supplemented drinks. 

If You Are A Salty Sweater 

Sodium loss varies amongst runners depending on all kinds of factors. It’s the heavy sweaters that may need to consider salt supplements, though. Some heavy sweaters lose up to 1600 mg of salt per liter of sweat. These runners may be unable to restore their salt reserves with sports drinks or electrolyte packets alone. 

Adding salt tablets to their regimen may be necessary on top of sports drinks to restore their sodium levels after a strenuous sprint or endurance workout. However, before you begin supplementing with salt tablets, check the label on your sports drink of choice to see how much sodium is in one serving of your sports drink. 

If You Are A Plain Water Drinker

Some runners prefer not to drink electrolyte-heavy or sugary drinks before/during/after their workouts, opting for plain water. Plain water is great for hydrating the body, but it doesn’t replace the electrolyte stores lost from working out – especially after an intense run. There are many supplements with electrolytes that you could consider if you prefer plain water on runs.

Electrolyte gels, capsules, or chews are just a few of the sports products on the market. Another alternative is (you guessed it) salt tablets. 

Salt tablets are also worth bringing along if you work out in high temperatures for an extended period. In this circumstance, you risk losing too much water, sodium, and other electrolytes through excessive sweating. 

It’s worth mentioning that salt tablets aren’t recommended now as much as they used to be. This is because many sports drinks are now loaded with more than just sodium and chloride (the two components of salt tablets). Modern-day sports drinks also contain other essential minerals like potassium, magnesium, and phosphate. 

How to Take Salt Tablets For The Best Results

Before taking salt tablets, we advise that you loop your primary care doctor in and inform them of any conditions or relevant information you are aware of. Salt tablets are available over the counter, but taking too high a dosage can cause alarming symptoms. It’s always wise to consult a doctor or pharmacist before self-prescribing salt tablets. 

Salt tablets are also not necessary for every run. They’re most effective in supporting the electrolyte balance of runners logging a long run or taking on the trails in higher temperatures. 

Most salt tablets contain 400 mg of sodium. Before taking any salt tablets, read all the ingredients, which should list the mineral breakdown of electrolytes contained in the salt tablet. You can dissolve them in four ounces of water, creating an isotonic solution. One nifty trick is to take salt tablets with some kind of food. This can reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal distress. You should take a salt tablet with plenty of water for best results. 

Not all salt tablets are made equal. Some may contain added sugar or other additives that may not be ideal for your performance. Do some research on the front end, and make sure that you’re only buying salt tablets from a reputable company. If you want to feel your best, you’ve got to fuel with the best. 

You shouldn’t use salt tablets for the first time on race day. Experiment with salt tablets for a few weeks and evaluate your body’s response. Salt tablets are not for everyone and aren’t necessary for the electrolyte balance of all runners. Opting for electrolyte drinks, chews, or gels may be the move for you – and that’s okay! 

As always, you know your body best. Keep a mental note of how you feel after taking salt tablets before or during your run. Use salt tablets only when necessary – if you are running in high temperatures, are gearing up for a long run, or have noticed that you excessively sweat.

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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