Sodium consumption has been shrouded in controversy for many years—first the enemy was fat, then carbohydrates, and as of late we’ve been told to avoid the calorie-free element, sodium. Right now we are going to dispel the rumors and address what purpose sodium plays in day to day life, how it will affect performance during exercise, how it will affect the number on the scale, and how you can determine whether you’re getting enough—or too much—in your day to day life.
So what do you need to know what sodium?
- There is a difference between sodium and salt, however they are connected. Table salt is a mineral composed of sodium that is commonly added to foods. You can refer to the nutrition label to see if any salt has been added. On that same label you’ll see how much sodium you’ll get per serving of that food, along with a percentage of how much of your daily recommended value you’re consuming with that portion. The FDA has set an “Upper Safe Limit” of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for those following a 2,000 calorie diet. Remember, this number is NOT set in stone. Some of us have doctors who may have explicitly warned against any extra sodium consumption. If yours hasn’t, get your doctor’s permission to experiment with how many milligrams per day best fits your water consumption and activity levels.
- You may already know that sodium helps maintain blood pressure and fluid balance, but did you know that it is also crucial for nerve and muscle function? Sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, and magnesium are classified as electrolytes. Through a process called osmosis, these electrolytes work with your kidneys to help regulate fluid balance in your bloodstream. Assuming all these electrolytes are in balance and are working harmoniously one with another, chemical processes regulating their transference inside and outside of cells leads to efficient signaling of nerves to contract our muscles. If you’re not getting enough sodium, your strength and endurance during workouts will be dramatically decreased. Do you have days when your limbs feel heavy and you’re struggling more than usual to perform at 100%? Well, chances are your sodium consumption isn’t as high as it should be. When you’re eating your pre-workout meal, don’t be afraid to grab the salt shaker and balance that elusive electrolyte before tackling your workout for the day.
- Sodium’s role in fluid balance is most noticeable in the days following their allocated weekly cheat meal. A meal containing an excess in salty, sodium-rich foods will lead to an increase in cell volume. As a matter of fact, if you’re consuming a low to moderate amount of sodium during the week, and then you have a spontaneous meal that is high in Sodium, your body can store anywhere from a few ounces, to upwards of 1.5 liters, of extra fluid. For some, that increased water retention will show up on the scale for a few days following the meal. Assuming you’re fulfilling your exercise commitment and drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, then your excretion of fluid (through sweat, urine, respiration, etc.) will catalyze the release of any ”extra” sodium that your body might be clinging to, and by extension, any extra fluid that is present due to the elevated concentration of sodium in your body.
- Walk through any grocery store and you’ll see low-fat, low carb, and low-sodium labels all over the place. Most of us reading this article know full well that fat isn’t the enemy, and neither are carbs. Whether or not the same can be said of sodium is depends on a few things. While it doesn’t carry any caloric value, its over-concentration for days on end (too much sodium leading to fluid retention under the skin,) definitely won’t help the scale move in the direction you want it to. It can make tracking progress from week to week especially difficult; you may be losing fat, but retaining water as excess sodium increases your chance of retaining fluid. To combat this, get some exercise and drink more water to help balance the fluid and sodium around your cells.
Now that you know the basics, keep working and progressing towards your goals. If you’re struggling to reach your goals, think about how sodium could be skewing the number on the scale or affecting your muscle performance and, reflect on your carbohydrate, protein, fats, and sodium consumption.
This article was written by Coach Alan.