Sodium: America's Villain
Hand up if you feel like you should be "watching your sodium intake"...
Hand up if you know what "2,400 mg" refers to...
Hand up if you see salt/sodium as a villain!
If your hands are still up, put them down and read on, because we got some talkin' to do about "sodium".
The sodium-related health issues are well known and often talked about across America. The fear of sodium is being thrust upon us in the media and salting your food without second thought is becoming a thing of the past. Why? Because most of America is obese and inactive, and if you fall into that category, then sodium can mean high blood pressure and a number of health complications. If you are obese and inactive, sodium is not your friend.
But, what about us active, fit Americans? Are we to fear sodium as well? Should we be focusing on limiting our salt intake? Should we listen to the media and give into the fear?? Plain and simple: heck no!
Oh the contrary, my friend. We should be fearing not enough sodium!
"Wait, what? Why?" Because sodium is an extremely important electrolyte that helps with muscle contraction, nerve function, blood volume, water balance, and brain function; and as athletes, we are losing it with every workout we do! This is why it is paramount that we are taking sodium in pre, intra, and post workout.
As we sweat, our bodies release sodium (which you may have tasted before if you've ever inadvertently gotten sweat in your mouth or had it burn your eyes...). This means that all the average, fit humans' sodium levels are dropping almost every day (depending on how many days they are working out and to what intensity). If they are already 'keeping their sodium low' as most doctors are recommending to the general public, then they are putting themselves in a bad position.
What do I mean by that? Well, let's start by looking at what sodium is. As mentioned above, it is an electrolyte- this means it carries an electrical charge outside your cells and within your blood, plasma, and lymph fluid. It is important for a number of reasons, one of which being that it is one-half of the electrical pump keeping electrolytes in balance both intracellular and extracellular.
What is "the pump"? The sodium-potassium pump is an active transport process moving sodium and potassium ions across cellular membrane using ATP energy. It maintains your body's acid-base balance as well as its healthy kidney function. It also functions to maintain the necessary electrical charge within cells. This is extremely important to muscle and nerve cells as muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and nerve impulse necessary for nerve signal are caused by the exiting and entering of potassium and sodium to and from a cell. Too much sodium can dehydrate the cells, while too little can cause them to draw in an excess of water, eventually leading to the cells to bursting.
What I'm saying is, keeping a balance of sodium and potassium is crucial in maintaining correct electrolyte and fluid balance within the body
But, as I said, when we sweat, we lose sodium. If this doesn't get replaced, our balance gets thrown off and "the pump" can't function accurately. Thus, we may start experiencing fatigue, headache, and muscle cramping to name a few symptoms. These are warning signs that if sodium and other electrolytes (like potassium) are not replaced soon, we may suffer from more severe hyponatremia, or a low concentration of sodium in the blood.
The solution in a case like this? Get more sodium! This is where sodium containing sports drinks can come into play, as just drinking water upon feeling those symptoms will only make it worse --being that you are further depleting your sodium levels by essentially watering them down.
But, why not be proactive about it instead? By ensuring you are taking in natural sources of sodium (i.e. not just processed foods/table salt) daily, you can account for the loss of sodium taking place through your active lifestyle. I am not saying to overindulge in salt, but I am saying don't purposely avoid it and don't limit it.
Again, unless you are overweight and inactive, the sodium electrolyte is your friend! Do not fear it!
It turns out, it's not this big, scary villain that America has made it out to be...