Why you should invest in Sweat Concentration Testing?

Hydration is not a one-size-fits-all equation

Hydration is not a one-size-fits-all equation

Sweat concentration testing (via accurate, medical-grade Pilocarpine Iontophoresis) is one of the newest tools pro teams, elite and recreational athletes are using to optimize performance. The testing and concurrent creation of individualized hydration plans is improving outcomes for athletes in a wide range of sports including: tennis, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, triathlon, running, cycling, swimming and ski mountaineering. Here are seven reasons why you should invest in a sweat concentration test (which includes a personalized hydration plan):

1. Replacing sodium effectively is key to maintaining performance

Sodium is the major electrolyte lost in sweat. Sodium is also involved in key processes related to exercise and sport including: muscle function, nerve impulse transmission, cellular communication, fluid balance and blood volume. Effective hydration is a combination of both drinking enough and replacing electrolytes (sodium being the biggie) that are lost in sweat. We know that when an athlete fails to adequately replace sodium levels and fluid, blood plasma volume levels drop and performance declines (for a variety of reasons). In some athletes, failure to replace sodium has also been associated with muscle cramping.

2. Different athletes lose different amounts of sodium

Research studies have shown that athletes lose from 200mg to 2000mg of sodium per liter of sweat lost. That’s a HUGE difference, 10-fold in fact. Since sweat concentration is a genetically pre-determined value that changes very little with environmental conditions, it is significant that we can now test this variable. This means that we can get an athletes individual sweat concentration number, combine this with sweat rate and individualize their strategy accordingly (pick the right drink, preload if necessary, etc.). When we individualize, we make sure an athlete gets enough sodium for their needs (to prevent performance declines), but not too much (which can cause GI issues). So that this makes sense, here is the data from 3 very different athletes that I have tested (this will show you how big the differences in sodium losses can be):

Athlete #1:

• Low sweat rate of .55 liters [sweat] lost per hour of exercise at sub-threshold intensity

• Low sweat sodium concentration of 240 milligrams lost per liter sweat

TOTAL sodium losses over a 5-hour event: 660 mg sodium lost in a 5-hour event

Athlete #2:

• Normal sweat rate of 1 liter [sweat] lost per hour of exercise at sub-threshold intensity

• Medium sweat sodium concentration of 900 milligrams lost per liter of sweat.

TOTAL sodium losses over a 5-hour event: 4,500 milligrams sodium lost in a 5-hour event

Athlete #3:

• Very high sweat rate of 3 liters lost per hour of exercise at sub-threshold intensity

• Very high sweat sodium concentration of 1610 milligrams lost per liter of sweat

TOTAL sodium losses over a 5-hour event: 24,150mg sodium lost in a 5-hour event

3. Electrolyte replacement is key to athlete health

A study by Danz et. al. found that 10.6% of triathletes in the Ironman European Championships suffered from hyponatremia, a dangerous medical condition that happens when electrolytes are not adequately replaced during exercise. The authors also cited a previous study on marathon runners in which 12-13% of finishers experienced hyponatremia. Because everyone is different, it is important to know your individual needs and replace electrolytes accordingly.

4. The sodium concentration of different sports drinks varies considerably

There are a wide range of products that are currently on the market that have vastly different levels of sodium per liter of drink. If you choose Hammer Heed, you will be getting 60mg of sodium per liter. As we move up the concentration chain, regular Gatorade provides 427mg of sodium per liter, Skratch provides 760mg of sodium per liter, Precision Hydration 1000 provides 1000mg sodium per liter, EFS Pro provides 1333 mg sodium per liter and Base Hydro Rocket fuel provides 1507 mg sodium per liter. Each of these drinks could suit an athlete. The bottom line is any one of these drinks won’t be effective for every athlete. Hydration and drink selection is not a one-size-fits all equation. If you know your individual numbers (sweat rate and sweat concentration), you can pick the brand of drink that is best for your physiology.

5. Our sweat concentration testing is easy to do, portable and accurate

Pilocarpine Iontophoresis is a medical grade technology that is accurate and done at rest. This makes testing athletes with packed schedules quite easy. We stimulate sweat using pilocarpine gels and electrodes and then place an evaporation-resistant macroduct on the forearm to collect sweat. The entire process takes 10-30 minutes depending on your individual physiology. The test is ultra easy to do as well (there is not a lot of room for error to be honest). With patch-testing and whole body rinse (other sweat concentration testing methods), there is more room for error (there is also evaporative confounding and these tests take more time). Finally, we can travel with the equipment, which allows us to test people in their homes, test teams or test athletes in locations other than our lab in Basalt (all we need is a power source and internet access). Click on the video above to see how the test is done.

6. You only have to do the test once

Sweat sodium concentration is a genetically pre-determined variable that changes very little with environment, etc. once an athlete reaches adulthood. That means you only need to do this test once. The $180 investment is a one-time cost.

7. Nailing your hydration can significantly improve performance and outcomes

The athletes we’ve tested report improved performance and outcomes post-test. One athlete, who experienced significant cramping in previous Ironman races, was able to take the data, increase the concentration of his drink/add sodium supplementation and get through Kona without any GI or cramping issues. Another racer got her data and recognized that she was overdoing it on sodium. She reduced her intake (by taking out electrolyte supplements), which resolved GI issues. Bottom line, get your individual data so that you can develop a solution that works for you.

If you are interested in testing (no matter your location), please contact me here.

Katie ElliottComment