A Pain in My Head

7 Aug

One of the reasons I love and am so interested in sports nutrition is because no matter how many studies are published or how many products are on the market, it can and never will be an exact science.  Generalized recommendations are just that–general, because there are just too many variables.  Every single person sweats at a different rate, can tolerate fuel a little differently and has different food preferences.  I love to learn about sports nutrition and hear what works for other people. And until recently, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what worked for me.


I haven’t mentioned it here yet, but during most of my training for the Brooklyn Half and now during my NYCM training, I’ve been having an issue.  After almost every single long run, I get a bad headache (not quite migraine status, but not a normal headache).  It hits me about an hour after my run is complete and stays with me the entire day until I go to sleep and wake up again.  Needless to say, this puts a hamper on my plans, unless my agenda only includes lounging in bed with compression socks…which may sometimes be the case, but not always.

I have to say I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit I’m struggling with a nutrition-related problem.  As a Registered Dietitian with experience working in sports nutrition, I feel like I should be the expert on this, especially since I’m so in tune with my own needs and preferences.  I’ve played around with my nutrition plenty during training cycles, trying new products, adjusting for my sweat rate and temperature, etc.  So when the headaches first popped up, I brushed them off. Migraines run in my family and I used to suffer from them quite often, and I thought maybe they were coming back to haunt me.  

But…the headaches only show up after long runs.  I can’t find any other trigger.  I don’t get them after short runs, speed work or even intense Cross Fit workouts.  So since long runs involve lots of sweat, maybe I’m dehydrated?  I recently recalculated my sweat rate (to do this on your own–weigh yourself before and after a run lasting about an hour, keeping track of any fluid you take in during the run, subtract post-run weight from pre-run weight and add any fluids to determine ounces/hour).  And as I’d hoped, I’m taking enough fluid during runs.  I almost always have my Camelbak vest on or carry my Fuelbelt handheld and refill that. 



But what about sodium?  That’s a crucial part of the hydration equation, as sodium works to regulate blood pressure and electrolyte balance but is also important to muscle and nerve function.  I know I’m a salty sweater and have tried to replenish salt during (my usual long-run fuel is dates stuffed with peanut butter and sea salt) and after (chocolate milk, pickles, pretzels, etc) long runs.  But maybe it’s not enough.  

To confirm my suspicion that my low sodium intake is related to the headaches, I turned to my mentor and favorite sports dietitian, Lauren Antonucci (www.nutritionenergy.com).  She’s an incredible RD, has completed many marathons and Ironman races and I can only hope to be as great of a dietitian (and athlete) as she is!  In short, she agrees that I’m probably lacking in salt and/or fluid.  As runners, we lose ~1000mg of sodium per hour to sweat and can only aim to replace that with fuel (gels, sports drinks, etc).   Lauren suggested I aim for at least 750mg of sodium per hour of exercise or liter of fluid.  Definitely wasn’t getting that much! 

So…something’s up with my long run hydration and I need to fix it.  It’s tough to admit that I need help with this, but I gotta get it figured out…especially before the big day on November 2!  I definitely don’t need a headache after that long run! 😉  My first step is increasing my salt intake.  I scooped up a bunch of salt packets when I was at Whole Foods the other day for my long run this weekend, and already placed an order for these bad boys:


Salt Stick caps offer 215 mg of sodium per capsule, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D (all things us runners need plenty of!).  

So that’s where I’m at.  I’ll continue posting my marathon training and of course share updates on the headache situation.  Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Have you ever been plagued by exercise-induced headaches?  What’s your hydration and fueling like? I’d love to hear what works for you!



7 Responses to “A Pain in My Head”

  1. Steph August 7, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    This happens to me occasionally and I always feel like it’s from dehydration or from not eating soon enough after a long run. It’s the worst and it ruins your whole day.

    Hope you get it figured out!!

    • Kim August 7, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      Thanks, Steph! It totally ruins my day. Hoping the salt fixes things!

  2. Kristin miller August 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    I hear you! It took me a long time to perfect my fuel plan. The answer was endurolytes by hammer nutrition (and taking a pepto pill the morning of!). I looked it up and they have a high sodium version! (Scroll down for their nutrition label) http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/endurolytes-extreme.xel.html ps I’m a teacher who has students who don’t know what they’re supposed to know! The biggest challenge can be mysteries in your own area of expertise!

    • Kim August 7, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      Thanks, Mama Miller! I’m going to try salt stick and see how they work! The Hammer ones (even high sodium) aren’t as high as the salt tabs.

  3. Kaella (KaellaOnTheRun) August 7, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    I NEED to start drinking more water before and during my runs. I don’t get headaches but I never perform as well as I know I can when I’m dehydrated. I need to get a Camelbak!

    • Kim August 7, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      Definitely need to keep up with hydration! I think even the smaller camelbak packs will work!


  1. NYCM Training: Week 4 | KH Nutrition - August 11, 2014

    […] 14 miles (last two at 9:22 and 9:26) before 8am.  It was cool but still humid and I tested out my new added salt strategy, which seemed to help a lot.  I got a little headache later in the day Saturday, but nothing like […]

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