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Feeling Salty: 3 Ways Sodium Can Increase Performance

From the classic “It will cause you to bloat”, to the “It only raises your blood pressure”, salt has become one of the misunderstood demons of the nutrition world. Yes, high sodium has been associated with high blood pressure, strokes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease so those with such conditions can benefit from implementing reduced sodium in their diet such as the DASH approach. However, if you’re an otherwise healthy individual and you train regularly, salt can be the secret weapon for improving your performance.

Another thing to consider is that for eating clean, this often means you aren’t eating the foods that are loaded with sodium in today’s society such as fast food, pre-packaged snacks and the like. You might even be shocked that your sodium is relatively low in some cases if you are eating whole, natural foods. Now, this doesn’t mean you should go overboard with sauces and the shaker, but if you add a little salt to your diet, you certainly may just reap the benefits of salt due to these three benefits:

1. Sodium Increases Blood Volume

When timed properly such as with your pre-workout meal or as part of your pre-workout supplementation program, sodium can help create extra blood volume, translating to better training endurance. This is due to the fact that blood volume is composed of red blood cells and plasma, both of which transport crucial nutrients such as amino acids, hormones, glucose and other nutrients to the working muscle. Increasing blood volume with sodium can help increase the rate at which nutrients are sent to the working muscles.

For example, a study conducted in New Zealand examined the effects of athletes ingesting a high-sodium beverage before running. It was found that they were able to run longer than those who drank a low-sodium placebo. It was also observed that there was better fluid retention and this helped reduce the strain on the body and maintain a lower core body temperature.

2. Sodium Increases Nutrient Delivery

As we stated above, your blood transports many crucial nutrients such as amino acids, hormones, glucose and other nutrients to the working muscle. Your body needs these nutrients in addition to water and electrolytes to maximize exercise performance, but that is just part of the picture. In order for these nutrients to work, they must be able to enter your muscle cells. This is where sodium comes into play as it is one of the main transporters that helps allow nutrients to pass through cell walls.

3. Sodium Stimulates Thirst

Lastly, while it may not seem inherently like a good thing, salt prompts you to intake more fluids by increasing thirst. By ensuring adequate hydration, you will help your kidneys maintain proper electrolyte levels. Water is also crucial for ensuring that the aforementioned blood volume is properly maintained since it composes a large portion of the blood and cells in the body. Lastly, it will help ensure that you don’t suffer the effects of dehydration which can impact strength or power or cause debilitating, workout hindering effects such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness or cramps.

How Much Salt Do I Need?

According to the Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 for Americans, the ‘proper’ sodium intake should be less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This is difficult however as this is just for the average population and there are tons of variables as you can imagine.

Another factor is that sometimes it can be difficult to measure just how much sodium you’re actually getting. Even without adding salt to foods, there can be hidden sodium in things like certain meats, canned vegetables, beans, pretzels, breads or even protein shakes and bars. You can track your intake to a rough degree with an app like MyFitnessPal.

For a more practical method that requires no equipment, you can always take a look at the color of your urine. If there is no color whatsoever, you may actually be drinking too much water. On the other hand if it is a dark yellow, you may be dehydrated and need to increase your fluid intake. Ideally, urine should be a pale shade of yellow as this indicates proper hydration.