Salt has been one of the most misunderstood minerals in the human diet. You constantly hear that salt leads to high blood pressure, bloating, thick blood and a whole host of other conditions. This may be so, but for Action Sports and Endurance athletes, it is one of the most critical parts of your diet if you are to train and compete at your highest level. Before I get into recommendations on just how much salt you need in your diet, lets take a real brief look at how salt gets processed by your body.
The Role of Salt in the Human Body
Salt or Sodium Chloride (NaCl) has two components that are classified as essential electrolytes. When eaten and digested in the presence of water NaCl gets broken down to NA+ and Cl- and become critical in fluid balance and performance of your muscles. Sodium (Na+) plays a balancing act with potassium (K+) in the human body together forming the Sodium Potassium pump that fuels nerve impulses and is a major factor in fluid balance and hydration. In short your body needs sodium, chloride and potassium to function properly.
Sodium and potassium in particular are in a 3:2 ratio in your muscles. The presence of both in a ration of 3 parts sodium to 2 parts potassium is known as the sodium potassium pump. If you don’t eat enough sodium or loose too much of it from sweating during those hot training and race sessions, your body naturally tries to compensate to keep the balance between sodium and potassium in the 3:2 ratio. This is when your body releases hormones like Aldosterone and Anti Diuretic Hormone (ADH). If you sweat out more sodium and water then you are bringing in, Aldosterone is released to help reabsorb the sodium and water. Because your body is trying to keep a balance between sodium and potassium, Aldosterone is also forcing you to excrete potassium in your urine. When all of this happens, blood thickens, muscular cramping becomes more prominent and feelings of tiredness and an an inability to “think straight” gets compromised.
Water intake and salt become absolutely critical particularly for Action Sports and Endurance athletes that train and compete in hot conditions. Let’s now look at some guidelines for salt and water intake for hard-working Action Sports athletes.
Salt and Water Intake
Heavy sweating due to exercise requires equal replacement of fluids, salt and potassium. Since your body can loose up to two liters of water per hour in extreme conditions, and each liter can contain between 1 gram and 2 grams of salt, you can see just how much salt is needed to perform at an optimal level. To put this into perspective, a full teaspoon of salt contains around 2 grams of salt. If you’re out riding or racing all day, you could be drinking a gallon or more of water, and you would need four teaspoons of salt!
So here is the breakdown of salt and water intake for an average 160 pound action athlete:
- Use salt with every meal – a light sprinkle will ensure consistent intake
- Drink one gallon of water every day to ensure natural fluid and electrolyte balance in your body
- Use a sports drink during exercise as it supplies some of your needed salt and water content
Don’t shy away from salt if you are drinking enough water because if you do, you could be holding yourself back more than you ever thought. Make sure to also have adequate intake of potassium which is found in potatoes, avocado and bananas.
For more information on water intake make sure to click this link.