A Day in the Life: Salt Pills

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When I was between 19 and 25 my friends and I would take long bicycle trips, often several hundred kilometers. Frequently we would travel over 130 km per day. Usually the first days were the hardest. This was the time to get back into shape. On these trips I would often suffer cramps, usually in my legs. To clear up the cramps, I would take a salt pill. It worked.

Fluid and Sodium Factor: Although there are many causes of muscle cramps, large losses of sodium and fluid can be key factors that predispose athletes to run-of-the-mill muscle cramps. Sodium is an important mineral in initiating signals from nerves and actions that lead to movement in the muscles, so a deficit of this element and fluid may make muscles “irritable.” Under such conditions, a slight stress, such as a subsequent movement may cause the muscle to contract and twitch uncontrollably. [ref]

Perspiration is predominately water, but it does include minerals and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium and chloride. How much water loss depends on a number of factors, but it can be estimated.

Recently, I had been experiencing cramps during and after my golf games. As I work out regularly, generally 5 times per week, I felt comfortable that the causes were not due to lack of exercise. Recalling my earlier experience, I went to the drug store to buy some salt pills.

The response was quite unexpected. First, they did not have any salt pills. Never heard of them. But the answer was coupled with shock that I would even think of taking such pills (they increase blood pressure, etc.) I did try to explain, but I received only a lecture on the evils of salt. I gave up and left.

Now I drink plenty of water and eat a few bags of potato chips. I guess the grease is a necessary side effect. No more cramps. I could drink Perrier.


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