Case Study: Cramping On The Run (Half Ironman)

Our Nuunbassadors vary across all sports, speeds, distances, and thus, hydration needs. And sometimes, even if they hydrate with Nuun their fueling plan can go awry!

As part of a new series we’ll be reviewing some of our Nuunbassadors’ fueling scenarios that may have had suboptimal results. We hope to help them perform better in the future, and we hope these real life situations can help all athletes to plan their fueling for peak performance and health.

By Vishal Patel

CASE STUDY: Male, Early 30’s. Triathlete. Nuun Ambassador.

Background: Veteran Triathlete

Our subject is a veteran triathlete, who is currently training for an early season Ironman. He is a Nuun ambassador, who raced a 70.3 (Half Ironman) last weekend in a mild-warm climate. However after his race he reached out to us for assistance with some issues in regards to his hydration and/or nutrition on race day.

Problem: Cramping On The Run

Our subject excelled on the first two legs that day, both his swim and bike splits were a personal best. He complained about severe cramping going into the second transition, on his way to the run course.  These symptoms were not present during the swim and bike, but immediately affected his running performance (noticed the cramping before mile 1), and lasted throughout the run.

In triathlon it's important to practice proper hydration and fueling on the bike to set yourself up for a successful run.

In triathlon it’s important to practice proper hydration and fueling on the bike to set yourself up for a successful run.

Hydration/Nutrition Strategy:  Nuun, EFS, & Water

After getting all of the background information, the next step was to find out what our subject’s hydration status looked like the days prior the race, and during the first two legs of the triathlon. He informed us that he hydrated normally the days leading up to the race, and did not notice any dehydration-like symptoms.  Below you will find his nutrition plan while on the bike.

Bike Split: 2:29:00

Fluid/Nutrition Intake: 

  • 20 oz – Concentrated Nuun (3 tablets)
  • 36 oz – Plain water
  • 5 oz – EFS Liquids Shot (flask)

Nutrient Intake (on bike):   

  • Sodium – 1,480 mg (Nuun + EFS)
  • Potassium – 590 mg (Nuun + EFS)
  • Chloride – 600 mg (EFS)
  • Magnesium – 195 mg (Nuun + EFS)
  • Calcium – 187.5 mg (Nuun + EFS)
  • Carbohydrates – 106 mg (Nuun + EFS)

Total Fluid Intake – ~61 oz (Nuun + H20 + EFS)

Conclusions: Too Much Fluid For Absorption Rate, Flushed Out Electrolytes

Several factors go into preventing symptoms (cramping) of dehydration. The weather is a key factor; it’s was a hot and humid climate on race day. However, this shouldn’t be an issue for our subject as he lives and trains in the area, giving him plenty of time to acclimate. Fitness level and course conditions are factors as well; our subject said the bike/run course wasn’t all that difficult, and his fitness level is not an issue due to his commitment and dedication to training. So then we looked at his nutrient and fluid intake during the bike, and realized that this may have been the factor that led to a less than ideal run performance.

Fluid rate and absorption of nutrients is very important when participating in endurance events. We have concluded that our subject may have exceeded the amount of fluids his body is capable of absorbing in any given time.

While you are exercising, taking in fluid is important, but the rate at which you are hydrating is even more crucial in determining sport performance.  Your intestines are responsible for absorption of fluids and nutrients.  At any given time, the maximum rate of intestinal absorption of water is about 20.3 fluid ounces per hour.

Therefore, with the information presented above, and knowing that our subject took in about 61 fluid ounces, in a two and a half hour time frame (~ 25 FL OZ per hour), we believe that he flushed his electrolytes stores out of his bloodstream, leading to a decrease in muscular function, and decrease in electrolyte response to stimuli.  The 36 fl oz of plain water may have served a greater function in not allowing the electrolytes to freely flow, and get to working muscles.

Without proper bike fueling your run performance will be compromised.

Without proper bike fueling your run performance will be compromised.

Solution: Less Overall Fluid, Higher Nuun (Electrolyte) Ratio In Overall Fluid Intake

 So how can we fix this? Luckily for our subject’s sake this is an easy solution. He had been hydrating on a timed interval basis, meaning he would “sip” on his concentrated Nuun bottle throughout the bike, and drink plain water every five minutes. Those guidelines need to be slightly adjusted for him to reach his optimal performance via hydration and nutritionRather than drinking Nuun or plain water every five minutes, we recommend our subject drink towards his thirst. Thirst is the #1 mechanism that our body uses to tell us that it needs fluids.  We also recommend he continue to use EFS for his caloric intake,  sip on his concentrated batch of Nuun; however, the one thing he needs to think about changing is the amount of plain water he intakes.  For his next race, we advised him to alternate between Nuun and plain water; however, this time using only signals his body is sending him to determine the rate of ingestion.  We also recommend he should try not to exceed 20 oz of fluid per hour.

What it Takes: Completing a 400+ Day Run Streak

Have you ever done a ‘run streak?’ You know, run at least a mile every day for say 30 days? Maybe a couple months? How about 400 days? Well, Nuun Ambassador Chris Malenab, has taken the run streak to the next level and recently hit the 400 day mark. And you want to know what’s impressive? He averages over 9 miles per day. No 1-milers for this guy. Here is a Q & A with Chris about his streaking and what he has experienced over many miles.

Chris Malenab 2

Nuun: Why do you streak? Did you plan this or has it just happened over time?

Chris: I really don’t have a purpose of streaking except it allows me to get out see the world around me. Some people like their morning cup of coffee, which I do too, but I like my morning run more. It originally started as a way to get some high-volume marathon training in during the month of December 2012, but then I was added to a Streak 2013 Facebook Group to see if people could run 365 days in 2013. After being added into this group, I thought sure let’s try it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how long it would actually last.

Nuun: Do you have days you just don’t want to run? If so, how to do motivate yourself to get it done?

Chris: I always want to run. I really haven’t had to dig deep inside and try to motivate myself to get it done. I think it has become part of a routine. The joys of slipping on my running shoes and stepping outside is motivation enough.

Nuun: I know you run a lot of marathons too, so no rest days prior?

Chris: ZERO rest days! Since December 10, 2012 when my running streak started I have completed 1 6-hour endurance run (39.75 miles), 7 marathons, one 30k, six half marathons, three 10-mile races, one 8.5-mile race, one 10k race, and one 5k race. In those races I have ran a BQ with a 3:09:25, my second and third fastest half marathon times (1:27:23, 1:28:05), my fastest 10-mile time (1:05:42), fastest 10k time (38:41) and fastest 5k (18:55), along with running the longest single distance of 39.75 miles in a 6 hour endurance run.

Chris Malenab

Nuun: When is your favorite time of day to run?

Chris: I love the mornings. I am fortunate enough to be pretty close to the American River, so if get out early enough, I am able to see deer, coyotes and other animals on my run.

Nuun: Favorite running route?

Chris: With running as much as I do, that is always changing. My most recent favorite route is called the Ninja Loop in the Marin Headlands. I was just introduced to this loop a couple of weeks back when I went out and ran with a group of friends. On a clear day, you can see the entire Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge which connects Oakland and San Francisco. It was definitely worth the 1 hour and 30 minute drive to get out there.

Nuun: How do you stay fueled and hydrated for you runs?

Chris: Fueling wise, I always carry a SunRype Fruit bar with me, but will always load up prior to my run with about 24 pieces of ENERGYbits. In regards to Hydration, my water bottle is loaded with either Nuun Kona Cola or Cherry Limeade, sometimes I put a tablet of each to change up the flavor. Along with Nuun, I obviously hydrate with water.

Nuun: How do you stay injury free?

Chris: Luck? I mean there are a couple times out on the trail that a fall could have been worse, so luck has to play with a little bit of being able to stay injury free. The other factors I credit to my injury free running is weekly acupuncture treatments and working with my sports chiropractor, Dr. Jesse Saenz,  every 2-3 weeks. My stretching and foam roller routine is based on corrective exercises that are suggested by my sports chiropractor after he took me through the FMS Testing to identify parts of my body that need to be stretched or strengthened more than others.

Nuun: Since you’re over 400 days now, what’s your goal with this run streak?

Chris: 401 days? I really don’t have a specific day that I want to reach. I enjoy running so I figure the less I think about the streak, the less it becomes a chore.

Chris Malenab 3

Nuun: Any tips for someone trying to start a run streak?

Chris: I would suggest that the streak shouldn’t be the one and only reason someone wants to run. Outside of a few mentions on social media on big events like hitting my first 100 days or more recently the 400 day mark, I don’t pay too much attention to the streak. I think you have to love running, you have to enjoy lacing up your shoes and getting out for a run. If the streak is the only point of focus then, running becomes a job or a chore, that should never be the case. Running is a gift, want to use that gift everyday as a vehicle to learn more about yourself and more about the world around us.

You can continue to follow Chris’ streak by following him on Twitter and visiting his blog.

Hydrate – The Polar Vortex is draining your electrolytes!

By Vishal Patel

It’s not often we talk about the NFL on our blog, but just like every other athlete, football players need to hydrate too, especially in the winter. A couple weeks ago, much of the country got hit with a cold front that was tagged as the “Polar Vortex.” With temperatures reaching as low as 20 to 30 below, not only was the air cold and dry, humidity was up as well.  All of these factors increase the risk for dehydration.


Something very interesting I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers battle the Green Bay Packers that Sunday was how little the players were paying attention to hydration. At one point the wind chill reached about 7 below in Northern Wisconsin.  These conditions cause for several hydration protocols that needs to take place.

During the game a sideline reporter for the Green Bay Packers reported that the players were complaining about cramping, and that some athletic trainers have been pushing the fluids. The 49ers ended up wining the game, and hydration didn’t seem to affect them. My guess is that their trainers were smart enough to take the necessary precautions, and making sure their players were well hydrated going into the game, and monitoring hydration status throughout the game.  Regardless of the time of year hydration is the key to optimal health and performance.

Electrolytes & Hydration

By Vishal Patel

Hydration is a key element every athlete must be aware of, and if you’re reading our blog then you probably already know that. But you may not know that what you hydrate with is just as crucial as any other nutritional strategy you take on to improve your performance. A sports drink that is easily metabolized will help with hydration, but electrolytes are the key. For optimal hydration choose a beverage that is easily tolerated and digested, but most importantly, one that has a well-balanced electrolyte profile.

But what do electrolytes do?

Electrolytes are tiny particles that carry electrical charges. They serve many roles to help the body maintain proper function. When you sweat, electrolytes play key roles in keeping water balanced both inside & outside of cells so that your muscles and organs can continue to serve you properly (1).

When you're active in a warm climate, you lose more fluid and electrolytes through your sweat.

When you’re active in a warm climate, you lose more fluid and electrolytes through your sweat.

So, why are electrolytes important?

When you sweat your body loses both fluid and electrolytes. If you don’t begin your workout properly hydrated, and/or you aren’t hydrated properly during your activity, dehydration can occur through the act of sweating.

Dehydration has several negative impacts on athletic performance, and perhaps you’ve even experienced extreme consequences such as muscle cramps and fatigue. But even if you don’t feel a difference, as little as 2% dehydration can result in a decrease in performance. Remember thirst is the #1 indicator that you may be dehydrated.

Replenishing electrolytes via sports drink helps to replenish your mineral losses; but electrolytes also help make the most of your water, which is the key to proper hydration. Sports drinks high in sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium can help retain fluids, and proper fluid balance contributes to optimal performance.

Sodium (Na) – Maintains Fluid Balance

Sodium is the most important electrolyte to monitor during training. Excessive losses of sodium (via sweat) can lead to muscle cramps, and in some cases hyponatremia (low blood sodium) – both can lead to a decrease in performance, and can cause major health complications (2). Sodium is critical for maintaining fluid balance, nerve function, muscle contractions, and acid-base balance (2).  Sodium losses in sweat are greater than any other electrolyte. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain an adequate balance, both during your activity and after.

Potassium (K) – Prevents Cramping

Potassium in conjunction with sodium helps alleviate and prevent muscle cramps (2). Potassium is abundant in many food sources, and the average individual has high stores within the body. In sweat, potassium losses are not as high as sodium. Therefore, making it highly unlikely that losses in potassium (alone) can cause a decrease in performance. With that said, it is still crucial to maintain potassium levels while training as it will be critical for a healthy water & electrolyte balance.

Calcium (Ca) – Regulates Muscle Contractions & Heart Rhythm

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body (2). It serves many roles both in normal bodily functions, and athletic performance.  When calcium is circulating within the bloodstream it has a major impact on metabolism of essential nutrients, and proper physiological functions. It is well documented that calcium is essential for bone and muscle health. Calcium is also involved in all types of muscle (heart, skeletal, and smooth) functions and contractions (1). And lastly, calcium is involved in the synthesis and breakdown of muscle and liver glycogen (fuel stores)(2).

Magnesium (Mg) – Relaxes Muscles

Similar to how sodium and potassium function together, magnesium and calcium do the same. Calcium is essential for muscle contractions; magnesium aids in helping muscles relax (1). Therefore, the combination of magnesium and calcium is critical for healthy muscle function. Magnesium also aids in glucose metabolism, and it used in many enzymatic reactions (3).

Bicarbonates – May Delay Fatigue & Enhance Endurance

Sodium bicarbonate is an interesting nutrient that has some compelling theories behind its use for athletic performance. One of the key benefits of having fluids that contain sodium bicarbonate is that it buffers lactic acid in the blood. During training lactic acid builds up which stresses the anaerobic glycolysis energy system (2). When this energy system becomes disrupted, the acid accumulations inhibit muscle contractions, which leads to fatigue (2). Some research has shown that Sodium Bicarbonate intake can help delay the onset of fatigue, and enhance endurance capacity. Whether or not this phenomenon works, it can’t help but to find sports drinks that contain this nutrient.

How much Nuun does ambassador Jim need? It depends on quite a few factors!

How much Nuun does ambassador Jim need? It depends on quite a few factors!

How much do I need?

Several factors come into play when determining electrolyte losses such as: fitness level, activity duration, and environmental factors. During conditions in which both temperatures and humidity are high, the body works harder, thus increasing internal body temperature (thermoregulation). With this increase, the body needs to release heat (through sweat), and electrolytes can be lost at a greater rate.  During strenuous activities in which sweat rates may be greater, or the duration is longer it is essential to replace electrolytes through fluids, and be aware of signs of dehydration.

Daily requirements for these mineral vary on gender, age, and in some cases, fitness activity level/duration. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has set standards for each of these minerals (4).

For both males and females it is recommended to keep sodium intake below 2,000 mg. However, during training session’s athletes should look to replace sodium stores through electrolyte-rich beverages, as well as, replace loss stores during recovery.

Potassium recommendation for males and females are 4,700 mg per day.  Potassium is rich in many foods, and will not need additional supplementing. However, intake in potassium during training can help maintain water and electrolyte balance.

Magnesium intake for males should be between 330-350 mg per day, and females should intake about 255-265 mg per day. However, hot and humid conditions can cause magnesium store to be excreted via sweat at higher rates so more must be replenished.

Calcium is essential, and is found in many food items. The suggested intake is 800 mg per day for both males and females.

To get a specific measurement of how much to drink we recommend you take a sweat test.

Nuun helps your body make the most of the water you drink.

Nuun helps your body make the most of the water you drink.

How do Nuun Electrolyte Enhanced Drink-tabs help?

  • Nuun contains an optimal blend of electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium Bicarbonate)
  • Tabs provide an adequate electrolyte profile to help you perform your best (Sodium: 360 mg, Potassium: 100 mg, Magnesium: 25 mg, Calcium: 12.5 mg)
  • Nuun has no sugars, so it’s more palatable and under 8 calories
  • The light, refreshing taste makes it easier on the stomach during activities
  • Effervescent tablets can be conveniently carried anywhere on the go
  • There are twelve different flavors, three with caffeine for an added boost



Additional Resources:
  1. Clark, N. (2008). Sports nutrition guidebook. 4th  ed., Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
2. Ryan, M. (2012).  Sports nutrition for endurance athletes. 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: VeloPress
3. Fink, H.H, Burgoon, L.A, Mikesky, A.E. (2009). Practical applications in sports nutrition. 2nd          ed., pp 220-254.        Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, LLC.
4. Institute of Medicine (IOM) DRI’s for Micronutrients: