By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
Jonathan Toker’s ingenious products face a strange conundrum: You may only know they work if you don’t use them. If you do use them it’s probable you will have no problems in long distance races. You may never know how much Toker’s SaltStick products may have contributed. Such is the paradox of many nutritional products. Toker’s SaltStick is a line of electrolyte/sodium dispensers and supplements designed for the endurance athlete. They could be thought of as race insurance in hot weather.
Jonathan Toker, Ph.D is a scientist-athlete. Toker, founder and inventor of SaltStick electrolyte capsules and dispensers, owns a Doctorate in organic chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute. Those credentials don’t come easily. Toker has also been a pro triathlete. A combination of analytical thinking, athletic experience and a perceived need led to his company, SaltStick.
SaltStick makes the clever rotational capsule dispenser that mounts inside handlebars and dispenses capsules one at a time with a twist of the cap- and holds them to prevent dropping. They also make SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus athletic supplement capsules.
A long list of unique features, some so unique they own a U.S. Patent, differentiate Toker’s products from others in the category. Let’s take a look at Jon’s product line from SaltStick:
SaltStick and SaltStick Mini.
There are two versions of SaltStick’s patented capsule dispensers. They vary in length and capacity. The standard SaltStick is the longer version measuring 5.75″ or 14.7 cm from the back end of the dispenser to the base of the dispensing end. Overall length is 6.5″ or 16.5 cm. The original length (long) SaltStick Dispenser is designed to install inside hollow aerobar extensions and can be mounted to the side of non-hollow aerobar extensions or aerobars that do not have a hollow, accessible inner section. It holds 6 capsules.
The shorter SaltStick Mini is half the length of the SaltStick and will work inside many road bike drop handlebars. It holds 3 capsules.
The dispenser can also be mounted on almost anything. This dispenser design works well anywhere an action/movement sport necessitates some type of capsule ingestion. In addition to holding SaltStick rehydration capsules any fairly standard size “O” or “OO” capsule will fit inside the SaltStick and SaltStick Mini dispensers. The longer SaltStick holds 6 capsules, the shorter SaltStick Mini holds 3 capsules.
SaltStick dispensers load by retracting an internal “pusher” when you turn the dispensing collar counter-clockwise (left as you face it) until it stops. Then you gently push the capsule through the soft red polymer dome into the dispenser “barrel”. To dispense the capsules rotate the collar clockwise a few times until a capsule pushes through the “X” opening in the cap. The soft, polymer “X” opening grips the capsule so it does not fall out, a useful feature in action sports.
The dispenser worked for us without fault. Capsules were installed and dispensed easily and quickly. The ends of the soft capsules get dented in from capsules touching each other when you load the SaltStick dispenser but this doesn’t have an effect on the capsules or the dispenser. Installation of the dispenser is easy with almost no tools. For aerobars with a hollow space the dispenser simply replaces the end cap. Two SaltStick dispensers could be carried, one each mounted internally in the aerobars. SaltStick even provides a color coded separate yellow color polymer cap to help you differentiate between two different capsule loads in separate SaltSticks in case you load one with SaltStick capsules and another with pain medication or other capsule.
A clever external mount comes with both size SaltStick dispensers and can be worn on a running number belt, backpack or hydration pack strap, and zip-tied to your aero extensions, top tube, ski pole, hiking poles or any action sports equipment.
SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus.
Jonathan Toker’s pharmaceutical and research background is apparent when you read the details behind SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus. SaltStick Caps contain 215 mg of sodium per capsule along with 63 mg of potassium, 22 mg of calcium, 11 mg of magnesium and 100 international units of vitamin D. This is Toker’s ideal blend of buffered heat tolerance and muscle cramp reduction ingredients. The capsules are buffered for reduced gastric distress and better absorption.
An additional product, SaltStick Caps Plus, contains 30 mg of caffeine and 190 mg of sodium citrate. For comparison the Mayo Clinic tells us an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains between 95 and 200 mg of caffeine. An 8.2 ounce can of Red Bull contains exactly 80 mg of caffeine.
Whether you use sodium and electrolyte supplementation in your racing and training is an individual decision. You simply have to try the product and look at your performance to evaluate any effect it may have. Keeping good training logs will provide an insight into the effectiveness of any product you try. If you have a history of poor performances in the heat that may be an indication that you’re a candidate for electrolyte supplementation. Sodium and salt supplementation have a long history of validity dating back to US military personnel in World War II and then again during the Vietnam conflict where troops were exposed to high work loads in tropical environments. While some recent studies also suggest electrolyte supplementation beyond what is included in sports drinks may not be necessary in all environments it is a credible option.
In our survey of the literature on electrolyte supplementation in triathlons we found a study debunking the need for electrolyte supplementation but the study did not include sports drinks laden with electrolytes consumed on the course, so even the athletes who showed they were not ingesting sodium and electrolyte supplementation- actually were in the form of sports drinks.
Jonathan Toker used his unique backgrounds as athlete and scientist to develop the SaltStick formulations and they are a consistent strong seller in the sports nutrition category, especially as warmer weather comes to Midwest and Ironman season begins.
If you’ve had issues that could be related to sodium and electrolyte levels trying SaltStick is a valid approach in your race preparation. Never try a new nutritional product in a race without first using it in training to verify it works for you, so start your research with SaltStick products well before race day to evaluate if they are right for you. If you use any capsule during training and racing the SaltStick dispensers are the best capsule dispensers I’ve seen from any manufacturer. They keep capsules dry, prevent dropping, dispense them dependably and work without fault in our tests. The SaltStick dispensers are much better than using the little plastic coin purses that allow their contents to get wet and dissolve before you use them.