salt lying on plate

Most people focus on popular substances: caffeine, citrulline malate, and creatine when it comes to athletic performance.

But few people consider one mineral with profound effects on the body: sodium. Despite the criticism, sodium is essential for our health and plays a vital role in our athletic performance.

Let’s see why that is.

What Is Sodium And How Does It Work Inside The Body?
Sodium, better known as salt, is an essential mineral found in many of the foods and beverages we consume. The mineral occurs naturally, and food manufacturers often add it to enhance the flavor of processed foods.

Inside the body, sodium functions as an electrolyte - meaning, it carries an electric charge. Once ingested, sodium dissolves in liquid and forms ions with an electric charge. The positive and negative electric ions we gain from electrolytes play a role in essential processes, such as:

  • Nerve signalling
  • Muscle contractions
  • Heartbeat

Sodium is responsible for fluid balance, cognitive function, nutrient absorption, and more. Sodium also plays a role in nerve signalling and works together with calcium to produce muscle contractions.

Why Athletes Need Sodium
Perhaps the most notable role of sodium for athletic performance has to do with fluid balance. The mineral and electrolyte maintains the balance between intra- and extracellular fluid. Consuming enough sodium allows the body to hold onto more of the fluids we consume. As a result, our blood plasma volume increases. This also allows for easier delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

As briefly mentioned above, sodium is also important for nerve signalling and muscle contractions. Deficiency in the mineral, which is quite rare, can lead to:

  • Brain fog and confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cramps and spasms
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

As you can imagine, sodium plays an essential role in our health, well-being, and athletic abilities. Adequate sodium intake is even more important for athletes because they tend to sweat more. While sweating, they lose significant amounts of sodium and other electrolytes, which they have to replenish. Otherwise, the risk of performance decline increases.

Sodium Recommendations For Athletes
Some research links sodium with high blood pressure, so many people feel reluctant to consume it freely. For example, researchers found a tight correlation between excessive sodium intake and an increased risk of heart disease in one study.

The problem is, not everyone responds the same to sodium, and some of the literature suggests that higher sodium intakes aren’t necessarily harmful to everyone.

Scientists and doctors recommend moderate sodium intakes, but that primarily applies to individuals sensitive to the mineral or who suffer from hypertension. They could be at a greater risk of health problems.

As mentioned above, athletes tend to sweat more, which depletes them of sodium. So, the sodium recommendations for the average person don’t apply that accurately to active individuals, especially those who sweat more.

General recommendations suggest consuming anywhere from three to six grams of sodium daily. In any case, it never hurts to monitor your sodium intake closely for a while and track your blood pressure. Experiment with different intakes and see how your blood pressure responds.

October 01, 2021 — Daniel Felstein

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