Most people don’t equate dropping an effervescent tablet into water with hyper-healthy activities like long-distance running. Quite the opposite, in fact – it’s more likely to be desperate if futile attempts to cure a hangover that you associate with fizzing vitamin tabs.
But while hydration tabs might do a little to loosen that vice around your booze-addled noggin, they can have a more impressive impact on your running. Read on for all the info you need on what hydration tabs are, why you need them and the best ones for your training.
What are hydration tabs?
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Hydration tabs are also known as electrolyte tabs, because that’s what they are – tablets containing electrolytes like sodium and potassium that your body needs to be properly hydrated. These electrolytes are also found in sports drinks, often alongside carbs and sugars which help fuel your exercise. Tabs just have the electrolytes, no carbs or cals, so they’re purely for hydration. Drop one in water, let it fizz for a couple of minutes, then glug it down.
Why do you need them?
Your body always needs electrolytes, but most of the time you don’t have to worry about them because they’re easily available in your diet. However, during intense or long exercise you sweat out a lot of electrolytes, and replenishing them is something you have to actively address. If you drink just water, you can actually dilute the electrolytes in your body further – in extreme cases this can even lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium). Many first-time marathon runners are at more risk of this than dehydration, because they drink vast amounts of water but don’t consider their electrolytes.
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When should you use them?
Any time your body is dehydrated. That can be because of illnesses like diarrhoea or because you got smashed last night (OK, we admit that stocking up on electrolyte tabs for running will also provide you with a handy rehydration option when hungover).
When exercising, you need to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. If you’ve only been working out for an hour or so, you won’t need tabs because you can do this at your next meal. However, if you’re exercising for more than 90 minutes, you’ll want to hydrate on the go, and electrolyte tabs help with this. Either pre-mix a drink or carry the tab with you and drop it in water at an opportune moment. In big events like the London Marathon water will be handed out on the course of your race, and during training runs you can buy water and drop the tab in when the need arises – it’s better than carrying a bottle the whole way.
The Best Hydration Tabs For Running
The only differences between most hydration tabs are the price and range of flavours. When it comes to the latter, let’s just say if you like berry and/or citrus-flavoured things, you’re in luck. If you’re buying online it’s worth buying in bulk, because postage will be often more expensive than a tube of tabs. On the high street, specialist running and cycling shops will sell hydration tabs.
Veloforte Electrolyte Powder Pack
We’ll concede that we’re stretching the term tablet here beyond acceptable limits, since this is a powder. However, since that powder comes in a single-serving sachet and provides electrolytes in the same way as a tablet, we thought you may want to know about it, especially as Veloforte brings some unique flavours to the table.
These are peach, raspberry and rosehip (Vivo sachet), wild strawberry and basil (Attivo), and golden apricot and sage (Solo). Pretty exciting stuff we’re sure you’ll agree, and each serving contains a healthy hit of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The Vivo sachet also contains 22g of fast-release carbs if you want to combine energy and electrolytes, while the Attivo flavour contains 75mg of caffeine.
The main downside here is that Veloforte’s electrolyte sachets are far more expensive than most tablets, but the varied flavours and focus on natural ingredients might justify the outlay for some runners.
Buy from Veloforte | £5.25 for 3 sachets
One Pro Nutrition Ultra Hydration Tabs
There are two types of tab in One Pro’s range – berry, which comes with 45mg of caffeine, and lemon. The standard hydration tab flavours, then, but the tablets themselves are a little more impressive than many rivals, containing eight vitamins and fatigue-reducing L-citrulline alongside the usual electrolyte mix. The tabs themselves are pretty chunky, which means that although the tube is the same size as those from other brands you’re only actually getting 12 tablets in it, so these aren’t as good value. Of the two flavours, we favoured lemon, but some more exciting options wouldn’t go amiss – especially as One Pro’s energy gel range is a little more exotic, containing passionfruit and lime, and blueberry flavours.
Buy from One Pro Nutrition | £7.49 for 12 tablets (currently reduced to £5.49)
The Swiss company plays all sides here, claiming its vitamin- and mineral-enriched tablets are ideal for play, travel, work and after tying one on with Mad Dave from accounts (our words, not theirs). That’s once social distancing is but a distant memory, of course.
These popular tabs are the most widely available and alongside the citrus and berry flavours offered by every brand, High5 offers a couple of more exciting options including our favourite, cherry-orange. As well as the standard Zero tabs, you can get ones with caffeine and unflavoured tablets that you can then add to sports drinks to jack up the electrolyte content without screwing up the taste.
SiS GO Hydro
There are three flavours available of the standard GO Hydro tabs: berry (obviously), citrus (of course), and pineapple and mango (well, hello). However, the best taste is actually found in the Cola tabs, which have added caffeine.
Buy from SiS | £7 for 20 tablets
Nutrition X Hydra+
Blackcurrant or lemon. No vague promises of berries or citrus fruits here – Nutrition X get to the point. Bear in mind that these tabs are meant to be dissolved in just 200ml of water, instead of the 500ml that most brands suggest – the right concentration is important for ensuring rapid absorption of the electrolytes.
Buy from NutritionX | £7.99 for 20 tablets
It’s all berries and citrus fruits again here, but you can pick from a couple of options in each category – the four flavours available are blackcurrant, strawberry, orange and lemon. The real appeal of these Wiggle tabs is their price, however: they come in cheaper than other brands, even when you account for the postage you’ll have to pay since they’re only available online.
Buy from Wiggle | £3.99 for 20 tablets
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.