I thought of this analogy yesterday when coaching. The key to training and racing nutrition is sugar, salt, and water. So think of it as 3 buckets to success: calories, electrolytes, and hydration.
Let’s start with hydration since that is key. Hydration is essentially water but best to have some flavor (so you drink often) and some electrolytes (so that you replace those lost in sweat). So you may want to have a bottle of electrolyte drink and a bottle of water at all times. I still suggest mixing your electrolyte at 70% strength so that if you take a PowerBar with your drink, then the concentration is not too high (=vomit reflux); so you hydrate with your “light” electrolyte which has some flavour and some sodium and some sugar but it is mainly a hydration source and use the water bottle mainly to transport and digest your electrolytes and your calories into your system.
Then you have your SaltStick or electrolyte replacement – maybe 1-2 per hour depending on heat and sweat rate etc (I used to take 3-4 per hour on the bike and 2-3 per hour on the run). You take that with water (best) or your hydration mixture (but be careful since that already has some electrolytes in it).
Next, you take your calories – maybe PowerBar – there is your sugar. You digest that with water (best) or your hydration mixture.
When you mix too much in your hydration bottle – that is, when you create a 500-1000 calorie concoction with extra sodium, you throw off hydration since that is your calories and your electrolytes and you need water to digest and transport both of those to your cells.
When you have a gel with extra sodium in addition to the much-needed calories, remember to take extra water with that – water to digest and transport the sugar and to digest and transport the sodium.
My best advice – keep it simple! Yes, water is scary because of the possibility of diluting your electrolytes but if you take sodium/potassium pills with the water, that should remedy it. Try everything in training. When reflux occurs or upset tummy – drink water and let things settle down a bit!