Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sodium – health vs. hazard for endurance athletes

In addition to carbohydrate, protein, fat and water, your body needs a minute amount of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Prolonged heavy sweating can lead to significant mineral losses (particularly of sodium), which can dilute the concentration of electrolyte minerals in the blood, effectively impairing thermoregulation, fluid balance, nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction. The most serious side effect of significant sodium loss is low blood sodium (hyponatremia). This is usually associated with excessive fluid replacement with fluids that contain little or no sodium.

Should I use a sport drink with added sodium?
Electrolyte containing drinks (e.g. sport drinks with sodium) and foods (e.g. salted pretzels) stimulate thirst, thereby encouraging a greater voluntary intake of fluid while optimizing sodium levels lost through sweat. This is important for very young athletes and older, masters athletes as their thirst mechanisms tend to be suboptimal. Foods and fluids containing sodium also help with recovery as the sodium has been shown to stimulate the process of post workout re hydration. Sodium, in appropriate concentrations, appears to enhance the rate of fluid absorption from the small intestine into the blood stream, especially when glucose is in the gut at the same time. So a sport drink effectively addresses fluid, sodium and glucose needs for effective maintenance of hydration and sodium balance during exercise.

Do I need to add sodium to my diet?
North American diets rarely lack sodium and even if sodium intakes are on the low side the body adapts by minimizing sodium losses in both sweat and urine, making deficiencies unlikely. Some people over 50 yrs of age are sodium sensitive and experience high blood pressure with excess sodium (salt) intake.

Take the Sodium Check Up to see how you rate:
Do you…
Shake salt on your food only AFTER you taste it? Yes No
Eat fresh/frozen vegetables rather than canned? Yes No
Eat processed meats only occasionally? Yes No
Skip salt in cooking? Yes No
Season foods mainly with herbs and spices? Yes No
Check sodium content of foods & buy those with less? Yes No

If you said NO to three or more you’re likely consuming more salt then you need. This might be an indication to follow the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet to help lower blood pressure. DASH is also a sport nutrition diet as it emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products; it includes whole grains, nuts, poultry and fish; and calls for reduced intakes of red meat, butter, and other high fat foods. DASH to it –

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