Media health scares treat sodium like another dietary nail in the coffin. Health professionals relentlessly warn patients about high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases. The masses are routinely exposed to a generalized statement: be sure to minimize your salt intake. This recommendation is appropriate for the average person who overindulges in processed foods with little to no physical exertion. However, in active populations, sodium loss via sweat makes increased dietary intake necessary. Healthy, highly active adults should be sure to offset sodium losses in order to achieve optimal mental and physical performance.
Let’s take a walk through the front door of a fitness facility; travel past the clanging of free-weights and head toward the sounds of repetitive panting heard inside the cardiovascular area. Here, a 230-pound bodybuilder is peddling on a stationary cycle, set against enough resistance to make it a progressive effort. Last week, he ended a mass-building program after working his way up to some decent lifts, netting five more pounds of muscle. Today, he continues a shift toward a cutting phase to shave off some accumulated fat.
The bodybuilder is glycogen depleted after following a carbohydrate-restricted diet over the last few days. He eats meats, eggs and green veggies – generally bland meals that do not include any processed foods or salty condiments. He knows cutting out carbohydrates from his diet helps induce a potent fat-burning effect. The macronutrient restriction makes cellular respiration dependent on stored fats for the formation of adenosine triphosphate, the major source of energy for cellular reactions. Trips to the urinal have become more frequent, due to metabolized muscle and liver glycogen stores releasing bound water. The bodybuilder believes constantly drinking water will help prevent dehydration from affecting his training intensity and recovery processes.
The bodybuilder’s repetitive actions are an effort engorged by extreme metabolic stress due to his dense, oversized muscles. Sweat pours from over a million sweat glands scattered throughout his skin, sprinkling over the equipment and collecting on the floor. He towels off his brow and arms to mitigate the mess, then slams a bottle of cool water. He has lost nearly a kilogram of bodyweight since he started the endurance session almost an hour ago. Found trapped in his workout towel, splashed on the equipment and collected all over the floor, is nearly two grams of excreted sodium.
Finally… the bodybuilder steps away from the machine, exhausted but pleased. He burned more calories in 60 minutes than yesterday. His core temperature remains elevated long after the session is finished. Like a rusty thermostat, he finds it difficult to cool down. He continues to wipe sweat off his skin, which in turn, removes even more sodium particles from the body – stopping them from reabsorbing back through the skin. Only 15 minutes have passed since he stepped away from the cycle; he feels nauseous and weak. His abdominal wall starts to cramp, painfully. His biceps twitch. Still breathing heavy, the bodybuilder slams two bottles of water to treat what he perceives to be dehydration. However, the filtered water only further dilutes his system away from a proper sodium balance, the real issue.
Right before lunch, he starts to feel the cold “pins and needles” feeling on his skin. Several days of low-sodium meals, exhausting workouts and increasing water intake has severely disturbed his body’s electrolyte balance. Luckily, the sodium found in chopped and seasoned chuck steak and diet soda kept him from vomiting and possibly passing out. However, he continues on the brink of a dangerously skewed sodium balance that leads to a constant state of confusion and fatigue. Due to physiological disturbances, the bodybuilder’s fat-cutting phase will result in a needless loss of recently earned muscle mass.
To encourage superior fat loss and muscle preservation, this bodybuilder’s daily sodium intake should have been increased to around four to five grams, possibly more due to the amount of exhaustive cardio respiratory training he endured. Sodium can be added in two-gram increments, while following a carbohydrate-restricted diet, with a teaspoon of sea or rock salt, two tablespoons of soy sauce, six ounces of dill pickles or 100 grams of plain beef jerky. Salted broccoli is a great source for both sodium and potassium.
Hyponatremia, abnormally low levels of blood sodium, is a condition most often linked to athletes participating in long-distance endurance events; even so, numerous bodybuilders are routinely affected. A danger exist in the fact that many don’t understand the condition enough to recognize it – confusing hyponatremia for dehydration only makes matters worse.
Sodium as an element
Sodium (Na+) is a silvery soft element of the alkali metal group. It’s classified as an electrolyte, along with potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), chloride (Cl-), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42-) and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3-). Life forms require an electrolyte balance between intracellular and extracellular environments to regulate hydration, blood pH and numerous other bodily functions. Various internal mechanisms in living species fight to keep electrolyte balance under tight control.
Sodium is an inorganic macronutrient essential for all animal life. Sodium ions allow an organism to build up an electrostatic charge on cell membranes by opposing potassium ions, this molecular rivalry allows transmission of nerve impulses. Without it, a person would fail to breath, let alone push over 400 pounds effortlessly. Sodium plays a particularly important role in facilitating the transport of nutrients into cells, so they can be used for energy production, as well as tissue growth and repair. With adequate water intake, sodium can help drive blood glucose into muscle for subsequently greater strength performance. Decreased blood sugar, in turn, keeps blood glucose from contributing to excess fat. Increased sodium intake during carbohydrate loading can improve glycogen storage over compensation, especially after exiting a depleted condition.
Due to its high reactivity, sodium is only found in nature as a compound, never as a free element. The most common mineral is sodium chloride, or table salt. The sodium found in sea salt is also sodium chloride, but its mineral composition delivers a unique taste appreciated in gourmet cooking. Table salt is often sold as iodized salt, which is sodium chloride mixed with traces of iodine. Iodized salt is sold to remedy widespread issues stemming from iodine deficiencies, a leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Iodized salt also helps relieve millions of people suffering from goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck. Today, much of the world is free of iodine deficiency due to the widespread use of iodized salt.
Sodium as an ergogenic
Salt has been an important commodity throughout human existence. The word sodium may originate from the Arabic word “suda’a,” meaning “headache,” as sodium was frequently used to treat headaches in early times. It was also used for this purpose in medieval Europe. The English word “salary,” originates from “salarium,” the salt wafers many Roman soldiers were handed along with their wages. The Western world adopted this ancient Roman practice into a timeless expression of “being worth one’s salt,” or deserving of pay. How did salt make the transition from a desirable nutrient to a symbol of disease? The answer lies within the 20th century, when a pivotal change in daily routines and common food choices disturbed an important dietary balance.
The kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s sodium balance. When sodium levels are low, the adrenal glands pump out the steroid hormone aldosterone, which triggers the kidneys to retain sodium and secrete potassium. This helps increase blood volume and pressure to homeostatic conditions. When blood sodium levels are too high, aldosterone plummets and the kidneys start excreting excess sodium into urine. But if the sodium load exceeds the kidneys ability to maintain a healthy balance, sodium starts to over accumulate in the blood. The excess load causes plasma volume to thicken, as sodium attracts and holds onto water. The rich blood volume makes the heart pump much harder to keep plasma flowing through the blood vessels, thereby increasing arterial pressure. The key is balance; avoid overloading the kidneys with sodium, but don’t over restrict blood supplies.
A healthy sodium balance in the body is largely regulated by a person’s lifestyle. Sedentary people basking in air-conditioned environments are sure to obtain plenty of sodium by adhering to a typical mixed diet. People who suffer from ailments due to excessive sodium intake generally eat too much junk and exercise too little. A good sodium balance is readily achieved through reasonable food choices accompanied by frequent physical activity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s reference daily intake for sodium is 2,400 milligrams, a canned recommendation based on a diet containing 2,000 kilocalories for anyone four years or older. Sports researchers recommend a different amount specifically intended for athletic adults, to better support muscle contractions and reaction times. The recommended performance daily intake for sodium is up toward 4,500 milligrams. Changing levels of physical activity with dietary manipulations, accompanied by significant water loss through sweat, makes achieving healthy sodium balances somewhat elusive.
Sodium deficiency develops after periods of severe dehydration without proper electrolyte replenishment. Hyponatremia, a potentially life-threatening condition, can occur if blood sodium levels drop to dangerously low levels. The condition is aggravated by introducing fluids without any consideration for sodium replenishment. The initial symptoms of low sodium levels are similar to dehydration; they include confusion, disorientation, vomiting and muscle weakness. Hyponatremia can progress to an extreme electrolyte imbalance known to cause seizures, coma and death.
It’s important to never confuse hyponatremia for dehydration. To accurately identify a sodium imbalance, an athlete can choose to submit blood work while experiencing symptoms. For a comprehensive report, ask to check blood sodium levels along with indicators of proper kidney and adrenal gland functioning. Fasting is not required prior to submitting plasma.
People who take pride in maximizing physical performance are often health-conscious individuals as well. Unfortunately, they frequently, and unnecessarily, fear sodium. Marathon runners aren’t the only athletes at risk for dangerously low sodium levels! Bodybuilders, powerlifters, sprinters – anyone holding a lot of muscle mass resulting in profuse sweating – are also at risk for severe sodium losses while increasing their endurance activities to lose fat.
- Water – nature’s ergogenic
- Nutrition facts of egg yolks in daily diets
- Effects of dehydration during exercise
- Protein requirements for building muscle
- Glycemic index and glycemic load