Triathletes who add salt capsules to their normal hydration routine during competition can slash 26 minutes off their personal best, according to research from the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Camilo José Cela University.
In the study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, athletes were given 12 salt capsules (divided into 3 doses) in addition to the drinks they usually consume during a Half Ironman—a medium-distance triathlon—in the hopes of replacing the 71 percent of sodium (they start off with) lost through sweat. Their race times were compared with athletes who only consumed sports drinks and supplement placebos, which replaced just 20 percent of their lost sodium.
On average, athletes who took salt supplements performed better than their placebo-taking counterparts—finishing the competition about 26 minutes faster. Their running and cycling speeds improved, too.
Maintaining an appropriate balance of water and electrolytes is crucial for organs to function properly; exercise compromises that balance, so we rely on food and drink to regulate levels. Here's where the salt comes into play:
"This positive effect on performance relates to an increase in the concentration of electrolytes in the blood, making them drink more fluids during the race (as salt stimulates thirst) and improves the water and electrolyte balances during the competition," the lead author of the study Juan del Coso Garrigós told Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas.