Background: Ultramarathon runners commonly believe that sodium replacement is important for prevention of muscle cramping, dehydration, hyponatremia, and nausea during prolonged continuous exercise. The purpose of this study was to measure total sodium intake to determine if these beliefs are supported.
Methods: Participants of a 161-km ultramarathon (air temperature reaching 39 °C) provided full dietary information during the race, underwent body weight measurements before and after the race, completed a post-race questionnaire about muscle cramping and nausea or vomiting during the race, and had post-race plasma sodium concentration measured.
Results: Among 20 finishers providing dietary data, mean (±SD) total sodium intake was 13,651 ± 8444 mg (range 2541-38,338 mg), and sodium in food and drink accounted for 66 % of the sodium when averaged across subjects (range 34-100 %). Sodium intake rates were similar when comparing the 10 % of subjects who were hyponatremic with those who were not hyponatremic, the 39 % with muscle cramping or near cramping with those without cramping, and the 57 % who reported having symptoms of nausea or vomiting with those without these symptoms. Weight change between race start and finish was significantly related to rate of sodium intake (r = 0.49, p = 0.030) and total sodium intake (r = 0.53, p = 0.016), but the maximum weight loss among those taking the least total sodium (<4400 mg total sodium during the race) was 4-5 % below the weight measured immediately pre-race.
Conclusions: Exercise-associated muscle cramping, dehydration, hyponatremia, and nausea or vomiting during exercise up to 30 h in hot environments are unrelated to total sodium intake, despite a common belief among ultramarathon runners that sodium is important for the prevention of these problems.