There’s a common misconception that any amount of salt intake is harmful to you. You may have heard it is associated with daunting health conditions such as cancer and heart disease. And while too much of anything can be bad for you, a certain amount of salt per day actually keeps you healthy.
Salt, which consists of sodium (40%) and chloride (60%), is a mineral compound that’s responsible for a number of your body’s vital physiological functions . Since it doesn’t occur naturally in the body, we must consume sodium to maintain an appropriate level in our systems. Otherwise, you could face a pretty significant salt loss condition.
What does salt do for the body?
You might be surprised to learn that salt does a lot for the body. In combination with potassium, sodium powers muscle contraction and nerve impulses. This tells your muscles when to contract and move. Almost every cell in the human body contains a sodium-potassium pump, which exchanges potassium and sodium ions to maintain a proper osmotic balance .
Osmotic balance is the optimal concentration of electrolytes and non-electrolytes in the cells, tissue, and interstitial (the space around the cell) fluid. If we consume too much salt, our bodies will retain more fluid than they need. But if we don’t have enough salt, then our bodies won’t hold on to enough fluid.
Too much water puts more pressure on the blood vessels and makes the heart work double time. Depending on how long this goes on, the vessels can harden over time and raise your blood pressure.
How does salt help with athletic performance?
Salt is essential to athletic performance. First of all, when you exercise, your body loses sodium and fluid via sweating. And although the amount of salt loss varies from person to person, it needs to be replaced if you want to keep performing at your best. People lose an estimated half a liter to four liters of sweat per hour of a workout. One liter of sweat has around 900mg of sodium, 200mg of potassium, 15 mg of calcium, and 13mg of magnesium .
For example, let’s say you sweat a significant amount during your workout. Then, you don’t properly rehydrate your body and you return to the gym the next day. Because you’re now dehydrated, you’ll most likely feel dizzy or lightheaded, tired, and potentially have a killer headache. Not only that but when you start pumping, your heart is going to have a harder time getting blood to your muscles which will kill your gains. Depending on the severity of sodium loss, you might even suffer some severe cramping. Even the slightest amount of dehydration is going to affect your strength, endurance, and recovery, so it’s essential to hydrate . You might even want to consider an electrolyte supplement like Fyool Hydration to get that necessary electrolyte boost.
Sodium and hypertension
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a good reason to reduce sodium intake, even if you’re an athlete. A wide variety of studies have been done on the correlation between salt and high blood pressure. They’ve found that a reduction in dietary salt can result in decreased blood pressure and decreased chances of cardiovascular diseases in hypertensive individuals .
If you have hypertension, that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. It’s quite the opposite actually. Regular exercise can lower blood pressure. However, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice. They might want to put you on blood pressure medication before clearing you for physical activity.
Optimal daily salt intake for athletes
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association both recommend no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day. That’s about a teaspoon of salt. Studies have shown that the body only needs 500mg of sodium each day to function . But those of us that lose almost double that in a liter of sweat just an hour into our workouts can’t operate on such a small amount.
According to The American College of Sports Medicine, the average athlete should consume 300mg to 600mg of sodium an hour during prolonged exercise. The amount can vary depending on a number of factors including how much you sweat, how hard you hit the weights, and more.
Getting a blood test is the only way to determine the level of sodium in your body. This can be helpful in ruling out inadequate salt intake as a reason you’re struggling to get the gains you want.
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