Salt

Salt and Exercise

Question:

Hi Kelli, I am a serious athlete and I want to know what you recommend about sodium intake.  I have heard that when you train at a certain level you should get more sodium, but then I’ve also been under the impression that extra salt is not good.  Please help me out?

Kelli’s Answer:

Anyone who’s worked with me knows I am adamant that serious athletes get enough electrolytes in Training Nutrition.  In fact, I often recommend that my competitive clients actual add salt to sports drinks, use gels and sports foods that offer the most sodium, and consume adequate sodium throughout an entire intense workout (especially when training is more than 2 hours or the weather is hot/humid).  You see, serious athletes need  400-700 mg of sodium per hour, along with adequate potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium to replenish their electrolytes.  Sodium helps an athlete’s body replenish its needs by increasing glucose uptake and fluid uptake in the gut and rebalancing the ratio of electrolytes and fluid in the plasma. But what about salt intake in Daily Nutrition?

Here’s where salt, a friend during Training Nutrition, can become a foe.  Since I recommend that athletes consume enough sodium during Training Nutrition, there isn’t a real need for extra salt in Daily Nutrition.  And, while many healthy athletes don’t need to follow strict sodium guidelines, and can often eat up to 3000-4000 mg per day in Daily Nutrition, anyone who is trying to lose fat, leads a sedentary lifestyle, smokes, has high blood pressure and/or heart disease, or has a genetic pre-disposition to them, needs to cut salt down closer to the 2000 mg mark for Daily Nutrition.  Why?

First, too much sodium in your blood stream increases oncotic pressure in your arteries.  Oncotic pressure occurs when a particle draws fluid to itself.  Since arteries, like pipes, must hold any amount of fluid flowing through only so much flexibility to accommodate it, an increase in fluid equals an increase in pressure – blood pressure.   This effect is different in different people.  Athletes definitely have an advantage because our arteries are more flexible than those who are not active (from greater amount of blood volume pumped through them during training), but we still must be choosy about our foods and the sodium content in them.  Smokers, on the other hand, have a huge disadvantage because they have the most rigid arteries.

Next, sodium can impair metabolism, influence our ability to recognize hunger and fullness ques, and promote fat accumulation.  Ever feel like you can’t get your fill?  Some high sodium and processed foods actually cause the same types of addictive chemical responses at a cellular/metabolic level as drugs and alcohol.  Since these processed foods are often high in calories and refined carbohydrates, overeating them can increase fat storage and insulin resistance in our cells.

What’s more, many high sodium foods also contain transfats (processed foods and Fast Foods).  Not only do these processed fats increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, and correlate with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, they may also affect your metabolism and cause your body to store more fat due to a decrease in insulin sensitivity.  It’s important to look at any non-natural food for transfat ingredients – look past the nutrition label to the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated fats.” Any food item with these fats listed has transfat despite the amount listed on the nutrition label.

And eater beware – a small serving of a Restaurant food can easily top 1000 mg sodium, as can a serving of microwave pizza or a frozen burrito.  One teaspoon of salt contains 2400 mg of sodium.

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

 

  • http://www.lifes2wheelbalance.com Anthony Lussier

    Wow, great post Kelli.  I always forget about salt intake when I’m out on a ride until I start cramping up and notice the salt coming out in my sweat.  I started using a recovery drink on my rides with a 3-1 carb-to-protein mix but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to help when I hit that 2 hr mark.  I think my next step is to start adding salt tablets into my drinks though I’ve never tried them and worry I might over do it on salt.