We are told that we all need to cut back on the salt. And for most people – this is very prudent advice – especially those who are inactive or eating highly processed diets – which generally delivers too much salt. Excess dietary salt can increase blood pressure, which is linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks, and can also strain the kidneys. For high risk people, cutting back on high salt foods and increasing the intake of potassium-rich foods could reduce stroke by 21% studies show. (Read: Shifting the balance of sodium and potassium). Often – just cutting way back on processed foods can accomplish that!
Certain people might actually need more sodium than they are getting – including those suffering from adrenal fatigue/hypofunction, chronically low blood pressure, and endurance athletes.
Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride – which are two important electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically charged ions in our blood – they regulate our fluids balance, blood pressure, are needed for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, and energy production – they are kind of like our ‘spark plugs.’ When an athlete works out – they sweat – which means they lose fluids and electrolytes. So if an athlete gets depleted of electrolytes (including sodium) – they could start to feel fatigued, weak, sore and generally could run out of steam. If allowed to progress – it can become more serious, even life-threatening.
If an athlete has worked out hard for more than an hour – especially in hot conditions – plain water is not likely enough to properly and fully rehydrate. In fact, guzzling a lot of plain water when someone is dehydrated can lead to a condition called hyponatremia – which is a low concentration of sodium in the blood. Generally chronic hyponatremia (which develops more gradually) produces milder symptoms, while the acute type can be very serious, potentially leading to brain swelling and coma. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A normal sodium level is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels fall below 135 mEq/L.”
Dehydration can cause muscle aches/cramps, headache, and nausea. If caught early when symptoms are mild, these generally will respond to a rehydration drink or salty/mineral-rich foods paired with water. But if an athlete displays any signs of serious dehydration or hyponatremia – including disorientation, slurred speech, weakness, or strange behavior – seek medical treatment immediately as it can be a life-threatening situation.
Some signs you could be deficient in organic sodium – muscle weakness, spasms, or cramping; loss of flexibility; headaches/migraines; heart burn or digestive issues; stiff or painful joints; fatigue; restless legs; osteoporosis; and hardening of the arteries.
Foods with naturally occurring organic sodium or a high quality unprocessed salt like pink Himalayan, Celtic, or Real Salt brand are not the same as table salt. Processed table salt typically has anti-caking agents, and processing removes all of the trace minerals, which makes the remaining sodium and chloride less bio-available to the body – and it is more difficult to excrete excesses too. It may not be possible to always get the good quality salt – but it is the only kind we use in our house. Note: unprocessed salt generally should have some color – pink, grey, etc. Potassium-rich foods help to balance out our sodium levels.
The best thing for an athlete to do – is to follow the good ole’ boy scout motto – and be prepared. Come to your workouts and competitions well-hydrated, and have everything you need in your bag to stay that way.
You could also make your own homemade sports drink by combining 8 oz water (or coconut water), with 8 oz. fresh juice (such as orange), 1/8 tsp high quality salt (300 mg of sodium), and 1/2 tsp honey or your favorite natural sweetener. Here are some other homemade sports drink recipes to consider trying too.
Some other considerations:
Research shows that the majority of kids today are chronically dehydrated, with 1/4 of all kids drinking no water all day long! Young athletes need to take their hydration seriously. One reason that kids may not be drinking enough water – is because they are not thirsty! You might find that adding a little more sodium-rich foods to the diet can help to re-stimulate the thirst mechanism. On hot days, I often put a small pinch of Real Salt in my kids water bottle that they bring to school, especially the morning after a hard workout. I also like to use a trace mineral supplement called SpectraMin which contains 63 ionic trace minerals and helps support hydration, it also pairs well with a product called Rehydration – which together helps to encourage thirst and get the fluids and electrolytes into the cells.
Some additional reading/articles:
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance