So What’s the Deal with Sodium?

So What’s the Deal with Sodium?

Whether you are on the training floor, in the super market, at work or at the dinner table someone around you is talking about Sodium. Your fellow training partners tell you need it: if you don’t have enough you can loose muscular contraction, proper body function and even suffer water intoxication. On the other hand, your family is grabbing the salt away from you at the diner table: if you over look your sodium intake, a higher then required daily amount can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease. So, what is the truth behind the mineral that is getting so much attention? And, what does it mean for your health and performance?

Sodium, or salt as we typically know it is a vital electrolyte that helps maintain the correct balance of fluid in the body, contributes to the function of your muscles and even helps transmit nerve impulses. Electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, potassium and chloride all help control electrical charges between the cells. An electrical charge is the body’s way of communicating cell to cell. On a large scale, electrical charges between the cells are what control your ability to see, smell, balance, touch, taste, hear, not to mention perform on the training floor.

But, just before you pick up an extra serving of salt- wait!  Most people get more then enough, and commonly exceed their daily limit.  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1,500 milligrams of sodium is a healthy requirement for adults. After 50 it is recommend that amounts be cut to approximately 1,300 mg daily, while the ‘upper limits’ of sodium intake for adults is approximately 2,300 mg. Now consider that one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium. Perhaps if table salt was the only sodium found in our diets the sodium craze making its way to your dinner table would not be an issue, but sodium is now found in great abundance in almost every food you can think of. Including your refrigerator, your cupboards, your takeout menus and restaurants. In reality, salt is not the only source of sodium we need to worry about.  Because sodium is an ideal ingredient to help add both taste and preserve foods from going bad you can find it in almost all canned soups, spices, yogurt, condiments, chips, dips, bread, cheese, cold cuts, bacon, baking goods, take out and more. Needless to say, sodium is extremely abundant in urban diets.

While it is easy to see why a person, specifically someone that trains and has a consistent fitness routine would need sodium to function correctly and efficiently on the training floor, it has been reported that Americans get an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day: an ‘unhealthy’ amount reaching way over the daily recommendations.  The kidneys regulate sodium, but when your sodium levels get too high even the kidneys can’t keep up with eliminating the access. Sodium then starts to accumulate in the blood, holding onto your body’s water content and increasing your blood volume. As your blood volume increases so does your arterial pressure, leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk to a variety of diseases, including heart attack, stroke and kidney problems. In a short-term affect, consuming too much sodium can leave you dehydrated and bloated, and in training both can severally alter your performance.

Today, sodium has been getting high amounts of attention; it is almost as popular of a topic as the obesity epidemic in America. In truth the two do have something in common – both obesity and an over abundance of sodium most commonly stem from our current reliance of prepackaged, caned and fast foods. Even a simple can of ‘healthy’, ‘organic’, ‘low-fat’ canned soup can still have more then your daily requirement of sodium.  Fast and frozen meals are even worse, sometimes having three to four times the daily-required amount.

Keeping Your Sodium in Check

Unless you are running a marathon or training at high intensity and long duration in extreme, hot conditions, sodium deficiency is typically not an issue. Symptoms of sodium deficiency are  commonly  cramping, weakness, loss of balance, nausea and dizziness. Drinking sports drinks and being aware and prepared for extreme conditions and training should be enough to avoid any such symptoms and health issues.

Controlling sodium intake is a little more difficult. To test your daily sodium levels try spending several days reading your food labels and mentally documenting (and adding up) all the sodium you take in through the course of a day. If the food has no label, make the effort to look up its approximate sodium content (white bread for example). Record this for several days, aiming to get a better picture of your daily habits. Additionally, see if you are suddenly dehydrated after a meal and start paying attention to how bloated you feel through out the day.

After you determine your daily approximate intake start to ‘clean’ your kitchen of unnecessary sodium.  The simplest way is by looking for ‘Less Sodium’ or ‘Sodium Free’ foods. Easy quick fixes are foods like soups, spices, broths, and frozen meals. Most brands are now coming out with lower sodium food options, (don’t worry, the taste is no different). Replacing your salt with other spices is another ideal way to stay in control of your intake. Try to add chilies, pepper and other natural sodium free spices to your foods and salads. Make home made dressing with oil and vinegar or lemon, replace soy sauce with rice vinegar and vegetable dip with yogurt. Finally aim to eliminate at least two take out meals a week- cooking your own food from fresh, raw ingredients.

The simple changes listed above will not only help put your sodium levels in check, but, they will help you have many long and lasting years of health and training.

Kb Xo Dasha