Sodium, Electrolytes and Hydration for health and performance.

Optimal hydration is key to performance.

We have all heard salt is bad for you, but salt AKA Sodium, is one of the 7 main electrolytes in the body along with Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphate, Bicarbonate and Chloride (which we get enough through Sodium as Sodium Chloride).

To save making this email too long we will focus on the controversial topic of sodium intake and whether increasing it can help improve your performance and your overall health?

Drinking water alone just doesn’t cut it. Optimal Hydration isn’t just about drinking more water, it’s about having the correct electrolyte balance. Poor sodium levels can cause subtle symptoms like fatigue, weakness, headaches, cramps and in severe cases lead to hyponatremia, which we will touch on in a bit.

Sodium is an essential nutrient necessary for maintenance of plasma volume, acid-base balance, transmission of nerve impulses and normal cell function.

For Reference 1g of Salt = 393mg of Sodium

Salt, AKA Sodium, has various guidelines from various bodies. The NHS in the UK and the FDA in America recommend adults consume no more than 6g per day. The WHO (world health organization) recommends adults consume less than 2000mg of sodium per day which equates to 5g of salt. These guidelines have been put in place due to salts association with high blood pressure and other chronic diseases.

What you might need to consider is, could you be deficient or are you consuming too much? As there are implications to your health and performance on both sides of the scale.

Sodium (AKA Salt )🧂

How can you be deficient in salt!? If you're reading this, you more than likely (maybe not) eat mostly whole foods and don’t eat too much fast food. Processed foods (which are typically loaded with salt) make up 95% of people in the UK’s sodium intake and 71% in the US ➡️ (Anderson et al., 2010).

The above means if your eating mostly whole foods, you may be lacking sodium in your diet! On top of this you will constantly lose electrolytes through sweat and urine, plus glugging down litres of water which can lead to low sodium blood levels.

When blood sodium levels fall below a certain point, it’s called hyponatremia. Exercise related hyponatremia is more common than you might realise, affecting about 15% of endurance athletes. In severe hyponatremia cases symptoms can include seizures and brain damage and can even become fatal! This Case Study reported the death of an Army Trainee due to overwatering which resulted in very low sodium blood levels.

Hyponatremia likely won’t be caused purley from a low sodium diet but rather a combination of a low sodium diet, loss through sweat during intense exercise and overwatering.

Does water alone cut it? 💧

A Systematic Review by (Veniamakis et al., 2022) found that sweat electrolyte concentrations and sweat rate can vary from person to person and each should take appropriate measures to restore electrolytes lost during exercise. Plain water was not sufficient at restoring fluid balance in the body and they also state that most sports drinks contain lower sodium levels than are normally lost during sweat.

A Review by (Valentine V. 2007) states that fluid replacement with just water leads to incomplete rehydration resulting in decreased performance, heat cramps and eventually hyponatremia.

Sodium’s effects on Performance. 💪 

A study by (Coso et al., 2008) compared commercially available electrolyte sports drinks (low sodium vs higher sodium) vs water, and if they could help maintain leg power and force during prolonged cycling in the heat. The results showed that all electrolyte drinks out performed water when it came to preserving leg force. However the electrolyte drink lower in sodium seemed to dull the benefits of the sports drink- leaning towards a higher sodium content in the drink being advantageous.

Unfortunately most studies have been completed on endurance athletes.

If you follow Stan Efferding, nutrition coach to Halfjor Bjornson and creator of the vertical diet. He claims salt is important for strength due to how the blood thickens when your dehydrated resulting in poor oxygen delivery. Salt helps to increase blood volume so you have a better cardiovascular system, better stamina, better endurance, and better recovery from training.

How much do we need?

Athletes lose a lot more sodium than the general population, since they are active and sweat more, drink more water and tend to eat fewer processed foods (consume less salt in their diet).

An article published in the Journal of Sports Sciences by (Shirreffs & Sawka, 2011) recorded that top athletes training at high intensities in hot climates can lose between 3.5-7g of sodium per day.

Another study done on American football players by (Godek et al., 2010) results showed the amount of sodium lost through sweat ranged quite a bit subject to subject. “Sweat sodium concentration and daily sodium losses ranged considerably. Heavy, salty sweaters require increased dietary consumption of sodium during preseason training.”

If you are just hitting heavy singles or triples in the gym with plenty of rest you likely won’t be losing that much sodium through sweat. This means you won’t need to replenish that lost sodium as much as say an endurance runner, but it is still necessary for optimal hydration.

With the above in mind, your sodium intake should match your needs. For the general population their normal diet may be sufficient through processed foods, salt added to food normally and lack of sweat. If you are eating well, sweating a lot and finding your quite fatigued, maybe adding some extra salt to your diet could improve your performance and overall health. Along with the other electrolytes.

Track your salt intake and keep in mind the guidelines set by the various governing bodies on recommended intakes, based on potential health issues from consuming too much salt.

Unfortunately I cannot give a general recommendation on exactly how much salt you need as it varies drastically based on your diet, lifestyle, current health conditions and activity levels. Hopefully the information provided can serve as a guide to help you achieve a better understanding of sodium blood levels and electrolyte balance to improve your health and sports performance.

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Remember and keep those electrolytes in balance 💧

Until next week, Happy Lifting!