Salt and potassium

The endurance athlete or heavy sweater may need an extra amount of salt to compensate for what has been sweated out during training.  This can easily be replaced by properly hydrating and a balanced diet.

Salt must be handled careful, as athletes trying to stay ahead of dehydration and hyponatremia by overcompensating with salt pills or heavily salting their food, may be compromising their training and health. Meta-analysis of studies have shown that high salt intakes correlate with a whole host of negative effects, such as stroke, cardiovascular, kidney problems, lowered bone density, high blood pressure and more.  Performance studies have indicated that salt supplementation through salt pills did not increase performance capabilities. Which means that athletes have to walk a fine line between getting enough salt and not overdoing it.

The recommended maximum amount of sodium is 2,300 mg per day for a fairly active athlete, with limits of 1,500 mg per day being the recommended amount for people with hypertension, diabetes, kidney issues, and African Americans (who, as a demographic, seem to be more prone to negative effects from salt). Typically, the average diet brings in over 3,400 mg of salt!  If you’re a more clean, lean, healthy diet type of athlete, your natural salt intake may be in the recommended range, but for those who frequent take-out or the middle aisles of the local grocery store, your salt intake will be higher, because many processed foods contain higher amounts of salt.

What’s really interesting is that the negative effects of salt can actually be offset by another dietary mineral – potassium. Many studies have found that while salt increases blood pressure, potassium decreases blood pressure. In fact, potassium seems to be able to counter most of salt’s effects nearly toe for toe.

Where can you get the most potassium? It isn’t bananas. The best sources of potassium come from green leafy veggies, like spinach, green lettuces, kale, beet greens, sweet potato greens and collards, followed by vine-based plants – your tomatoes (an even better reason to splurge on heirloom varieties at your local farmer’s market), eggplant or pumpkin/squash, and then your root vegetables come in third: turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.  The king of potassium? Sweet Potatoes!

The average adult needs 4.7 grams of potassium per day. But, don’t go too far over that in an effort to undo any damage from salt. Potassium is one of those minerals where too much is NOT a good thing!

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