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How to make sure you’re being “the salt of the earth” while exercising

WOMAN DRINKING WATER
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Here's something most of us forget when we're working out.

It’s the height of summer in Texas, and last week temperatures were over 100 every single day. For lots of people, summer in Texas is like winter up north — time to hibernate, stay inside, and stay cool.

But I have five kids and work with a company whose tagline is “take it outside,” so staying inside isn’t in our world. For us, triple-digit temperatures mean we find creative ways to stay cool while keeping a laser focus on hydration.

At least 20 times a day I remind my kids to drink water. I have water with us all the time, and the price of admission to every meal and snack is a cup of water. I also text my campers the day before camp to remind them to drink water all day long, too — chugging a water bottle on the way to camp won’t cut it.

But what I always forget to factor in is the other 50 percent of the hydration equation — sodium. After all, Christ didn’t call us the salt of the earth because salt is an optional seasoning. Just like water, salt is essential for life.

I’m constantly reminding everyone, including myself, to drink water, but I can’t remember the last time I reminded anyone to make sure they’re salting that water, or choosing an electrolyte-replacement drink. Dehydration can be caused by either water or sodium loss, but optimal hydration can only be achieved by making sure you’re maintaining adequate levels of both sodium and water. Brian Rigby at Climbing Nutrition has the best explanation I’ve found on the dual importance of sodium and water when it comes to hydration:

With the myths about hydration out of the way, let’s discuss what hydration really is: blood and cell water volume. On the surface, this is a very simple concept; when you dehydrate food, you take the water out of the cells until it’s drier and tougher. What makes it complicated is understanding how hydration works on a small scale where you’re not trying to mummify things, but rather are trying to increase water content to either a “normal” level or a supernormal level.

In this way, hydration becomes more than just water — it’s the balance of water to the concentration of solutes in the places it matters (i.e., blood and cells). There are numerous solutes in our blood and cells, but the two most important ones are sodium (for blood) and potassium (for cells); both are electrolytes … Therefore, increasing blood or cell volume (hydration) can only be achieved in one way: by increasing levels of both the solution (water) and the solute (sodium or potassium).

Turns out that, practically, I know this. I sweat buckets despite how acclimated to the heat I’ve become, and that sweat is always super salty — I can tell by the way it stings my eyes and leaves salt residue on my shirts. (Gross, I know, but relevant — bear with me, y’all.)

As soon as the weather turned from “winter” to “hellfire summer” (which, in Texas, took less than 16 hours), I adopted the habit of taking a big bottle of coconut water with me to camp. Water just wasn’t cutting it. I could feel my energy literally drain out of me by the end of my first camp, sapped by the sun and sweat. After a week of struggling through my later camp, afraid I would definitely pass out at any moment, I remembered how much coconut water had revived me during long taekwondo sparring practices, so I grabbed a bottle.

I felt 98 percent better that day. I had more energy and didn’t suffer at all from the drained, “fake-it-till-you-make-it” syndrome that the merciless heat had foisted upon me.

So while I practice electrolyte replacement, I don’t preach it. I almost never talk to my campers about the importance of electrolytes, even while I’m sipping on a giant bottle of coconut water.

But that’s all about to change. Not only are my campers gonna get a nice, long talk about proper hydration and the importance of maintaining that hydration … they’re also gonna get a big fat teaspoon of salt in their cooler of ice water.

And if any of them notice and comment on the salty flavor of the water, I’ll remind them that they can’t be the salt of the earth without, like, salt. If they still don’t buy it, I’ll just tell them I made the water salty to match their commentary.

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