Government and health agencies are constantly tell us to reduce the amount of sodium in the diet. But is this the best advice for the hard training athlete?
Sodium is a chemical which is found naturally in the body and in lots of different foods as well as ordinary table salt. It is essential to the functioning of the body. It is used to regulate blood pressure and blood volume as well as helping in the transmission of nerve impulses and helps the acid/alkali balance in the body (Source: Nutrient Facts)
But too much sodium in the diet can lead to a number of health implications, including high blood pressure (hypertension) which in turn increases the likelyhood of heart disease or stroke. High blood pressure affects around 40% of people in the UK and around one in three in the United States (Source: Health News Today)
How Much Sodium Should a Healthy Person be Consuming on a Daily Basis?
Government guidelines vary on how much sodium an individual should consume on a daily basis. Some guidelines suggest that the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of sodium should be 2,500mg. This equates to about six grams of salt. However, new guidelines from the US Agriculture and Health Services Department suggest that a figure of 1500mg per day is more suitable for adults. (Source: MSNBC.com)
However, not everyone is convinced that such stringent guidelines are necessary. Although the average UK adult’s salt intake is closer to nine grams per day, some feel that the jury is still out on how much salt should be consumed and that other factors may come into play when it comes to heart disease and blood pressure figures including low exercise rates and poor general overall diet (Health Report UK).
Low Sodium Diets for Athletes – Should an Active Person Limit Salt Intake?
Perhaps more concerning is the impact that a low sodium diet could have on endurance athletes and active people. As government health agencies bring out new guidelines that recommend a low salt diet, those most likely to heed the advice are those who already take care to live healthily.
As previously mentioned, sodium is vital for bodily functions such as muscle contraction and low sodium levels can lead to muscle failure and cramps as well as dizziness. Endurance athletes are particularly at risk as some experts say that up to 1000mg of sodium can be lost per hour of intensive exercise. This could mean that someone with low sodium could become quickly depleted. (Source: Healthcastle)
Government guidelines also take into account the fact that most people consume a large amount of processed food which normally contain large amounts of salt. However, most serious athletes eat clean, avoiding processed foods and so need to add salt to ensure adequate levels are maintained.
So should an active person limit sodium intake? Based on these arguments probably not. What is more important is a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and a clean diet based on whole foods.