Monday, January 23, 2012

Do I Need More Salt When I’m Active?

Athletes can get confused about recommendations around sodium/salt.  Yes, some endurance athletes (ultra endurance athletes in particular) need additional salt to account for their high losses, but most athletes get more than enough in their typical diet.  The concern is that high intakes of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and/or kidney disease. 

Most Canadians are getting more than enough sodium without even trying.  Canadians are currently averaging 3400 mg of sodium per day.  The recommended intake is only 1500 mg and the upper limit is 2300 mg.  The Sodium Working Group has a goal of reducing Canadian intakes to 2300 mg per day by 2016.

During activity sodium helps stimulate thirst to encourage hydration, helps maintain our fluid and electrolyte balances, and helps us retain fluid.  An athlete experiencing low sodium may experience muscle cramping, bloating, stomach upset, and the inability to rehydrate after exercise.

In sweat, people lose water and electrolytes.  Salt is the main electrolyte lost in sweat, but the losses are very individual and you will lose far more water than sodium.  A heavy and/or salty sweater will have more losses to replace, but these are often easily met by typical food choices. 

Fact: Most of the foods we eat contain too much sodium.
• Over 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods such as cheese, deli meats, pizza, sauces and soups.
• Packaged and ready-to-eat foods, fast foods and restaurant meals are often high in sodium.
• Breads, breakfast cereals and bakery products also contain sodium even though they may not taste salty.

The sport food industry wants you to buy their products, but sodium replacement is easier than the ads suggest.  There is a time and a place for different products, foods, and beverages.

Stephanie Wheler, RD
Something Nutrishus Counselling & Coaching
Sodium Facts for Athletes,, Nov. 2010
Sodium Reduction Messages and Tips, Dietitians of Canada, Oct. 2011