Sodium has been painted as enemy #1 when it comes to health and longevity.
But if you understand how critical sodium is for the body, you'd know those statements are all a crock of shit. If you don't know, you'll be educated by the end of this article.
In short, sodium is critical to many bodily systems, such as fluid balance, muscle contraction, nerve function, and more.
Keep reading to learn why you need sodium, why it's especially important for athletes, and how different types of sodium offer their own pros and cons.
- Sodium is critical in nerve function, muscle contraction, and fluid balance.
- Sodium deficiency can negatively affect athletic performance and recovery.
- Pink Himalayan provides other nutrients in addition to sodium.
- Low sodium can result in negative side effects.
- You NEED sodium
Remember, sodium is not bad for you!
It's an essential nutrient that your body needs. In fact, quite the opposite is true - health issues and deficiency symptoms will occur if you're not getting ENOUGH sodium.
For example, if you drink too much water in a short amount of time, your sodium levels can deplete so drastically that it can cause severe illness or even death. Yes, death.
It's called hyponatraemia and is a result of water intoxication. Google it or you can read more about it at this article (just click the link)
Now back to sodium functions:
Sodium is needed for:
- Nerve Functions
- Muscle Health and Proper Contractions
- Energy and Energy Production
- Fluid/Electrolyte Balance
- Blood Pressure Regulation
Let's talk about sodium and break down the science behind its role in the body.
Sodium picked up a bad rap after some dodgy studies were put out - but the truth is that it's an essential nutrient. (WE NEED IT)
Salt and sodium are commonly used interchangeably - but they're not the same thing.
- Sodium = Mineral
- Salt = Compound consisting of sodium
Sodium is the sixth most abundant element on Earth, making up a significant portion of the Earth's crust.
It is an important mineral that plays a critical role in nerve function and muscle contractions, among other roles.
WHY SODIUM GETS A BAD RAP...
Back to those dodgy studies we spoke about earlier...
STUDY 2 - 1904
Two French scientists, Ambard and Beauchard, developed their salt-blood pressure hypothesis. They tested their hypothesis that more salt = higher blood pressure.
But...in this study, the participant list consisted of six individuals. Just 6 - not 600, not 6,000, just six, patients. Meaning, it wasn't statistically significant and it didn't take into account previous health concerns that the individuals may have had.
STUDY 2 - 1950s and 60s
Dr. Lewis Dahl tested his theories that low salt diets = less hypertension.
He tested his theories on rats, but not just any rats. Dahl understood that salt intake didn't have much effect on blood pressure in normal rats - so he created "Dahl salt-sensitive rats".
Yes - he created rats to be SENSITIVE to salt so that he could use these SALT-SENSITIVE rats to test and prove his salt-blood pressure hypothesis.
He also created salt-resistant rats and tested these as well.
And what do you know...the salt-sensitive rats that were given a high-salt diet developed a deadly rise in blood pressure and salt-resistant rats did not.
...but you have to remember, they were already modified to be sensitive - so the results are skewed, but this is where some of the salt confusion begins.
From here, flawed study after study painted salt in a bad light and pushed the fact that salt diets resulted in hypertension and the dietary guidelines for American and their sodium consumption landed at 2,300mg of sodium or less per day.
^That's just ONE teaspoon of salt - not enough for athletes or those working and sweating in warm conditions.
Read more on the "The Sweet Spot for Sodium Intake"
Sodium is an essential element that influences many systems and functions in the human body. Sodium influences:
- Nerve Function
- Muscle Contraction and Health
- Fluid/Electrolyte Balance
- Nutrient Absorption
- Blood Pressure Regulation
Sodium plays a critical role in nerve function by essentially acting as an on-switch.
When a nerve signal is initiated, sodium channels in the nerve cell membrane open up, allowing sodium ions to make their way into the cell. This electrical burst travels down the nerve cell, carrying the message from your brain to other parts of the body.
When your brain sends a signal to move a muscle, sodium steps up to the plate.
Sodium helps facilitate muscle contractions by opening specialized channels in the muscle cell membrane. As sodium floods these channels, it changes the electrical charge that sets off a chain reaction, ultimately leading to muscle contraction. Furthermore, as sodium rushes into the cell, it triggers the release of stored calcium ions, further promoting muscle contraction.
Sodium plays a major role in maintaining the fluid balance in the body.
It helps regulate the amount of water inside and outside your cells, ensuring our cells have the right environment to function properly. The delicate balance of sodium and water can affect blood pressure and hydration which can have a crucial effect on training and performance.
We all need proper fluid balance, but athletes training hard, especially twice a day need to keep their fluids in check for high performance.
Sodium helps facilitate the transport of essential nutrients across the intestinal cell membranes by creating a favorable environment.
In layman's terms - sodium intake is essential for proper nutrient absorption in the small intestine.
It's involved in the absorption of amino acids, glucose, and even some minerals. Without enough sodium content, you may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
BLOOD PRESSURE REGULATION
Sodium influences blood pressure through its role in fluid balance in the body. High sodium consumption leads to increased fluid retention and higher blood pressure. On the flip side, reduced sodium intake can help lower blood pressure.
BEST SOURCES OF SODIUM
Americans consume a significant amount of sodium on average, so many food companies have focused on low-sodium foods to support reduced sodium intake. You might wonder what foods are best if you need to increase your daily sodium intake. Not to worry--we've compiled a list of 10 of the best sources of sodium:
- Shrimp: Three ounces of cooked shrimp contains 94 mg of sodium.
- Cottage Cheese: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese contains 358 mg of sodium.
- Vegetable Juice: One cup of mixed vegetable juice contains 180 mg of sodium.
- Sandwiches: An average 6-inch turkey sub sandwich contains 583 mg of sodium.
- Broths and Stocks: One cup of vegetable broth contains 667 mg of sodium.
- Cheese: One slice of cheddar cheese contains 111 mg of sodium.
- Jerky: One ounce of beef jerky contains 505 mg of sodium.
- Pickles: One pickle spear contains 326 mg of sodium.
- Frozen Pre-Prepared Foods: One personal-size frozen meal can have 991 mg of sodium.
- Ham: Just one slice of ham contains 167 mg of sodium.
Of course, it's important to remember that sodium needs are very individualized. Be mindful of the amount of sodium in your food supply and plan your meals and supplements accordingly.
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Sodium deficiency can be a tricky problem. It can sneak up on you and leave you feeling off during a workout, fuzzy during normal day-to-day tasks, and low overall energy. Causes of sodium deficiency include excessive sweating, excessive hydration, inadequate salt intake, and low-carbohydrate diets. 
Symptoms of sodium deficiency include:
- Low Energy
- Muscle Cramps
- Brain Fog
- Increased Salt Cravings
- Mood Disruptions
SODIUM FOR ATHLETES
Sodium is an essential nutrient for athletes, playing a role in training and performance. Sodium is involved in electrolyte balance, hydration, and recovery--all important to an athlete hard at work.
Athletes lose sodium through sweat as they train, but electrolytes are essential for nerve signaling and muscle function. Plus, a lack of electrolytes can lead to debilitating muscle cramps. Sodium also helps athletes retain fluids and stay hydrated, preventing dehydration-related injuries. Lastly, sodium is involved in nutrient absorption, so replenishing the sodium you lose during a workout can help you absorb other nutrients that promote faster recovery.
SODIUM IN SUPPLEMENTS
Sodium is common in supplements and commonly the main ingredient in hydration products, but not all salts are created equal.
Sure, they all contain sodium chloride as - but it doesn't make them the same. Some have additives, some don't. Some are heavily processed, some aren't. Etc.
Here's the breakdown...
White in color, fine, small crystals.
Contains only sodium and chloride - which is why the terms "table salt" and "sodium chloride" are commonly used interchangeably.
The reason table salt contains only sodium and chloride, is because it is heavily refined and and all that's left is sodium chloride.
Since table salt is heavily processed additional additives and anticaking agents are dry out the salt and prevent clumping.
Another common term you may see with table salt is "Iodized" Salt which means that iodine has been added to the blend.
PINK HIMALAYAN SALT
Pink in color, can be powdered, fine, or course in texture.
Pink Himalayan salt comes from ancient dried up ocean and is mined throughout Pakistan. Unlike table salt, Pink Himalayan Salt contains 84 minerals and and trace elements.
Which puts it's nutritional profile above table salt.
Less refined, less processed, and more nutrients - pink Himalayan salt is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Unlike table salt that is stripped of its nutrients and bleached during manufacturing, phs is harvested by hand and kept in its natural state.
Read more on pink Himalayan salt and its benefits for athletes.
WHY PINK HIMALAYAN SEA SALT IS SUPERIOR
Of all sodium compounds available for sports nutrition supplements, pink Himalayan salt offers unique benefits. It's rich in mineral contents, containing calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.
In fact, recent research found that pink Himalayan salt has substantially higher levels of each compared to your typical table salt or sodium chloride.
DOES SALT NEED SUGAR?
Sugar can help with electrolyte absorption, but it isn't absolutely necessary. Yes, glucose can aid in transporting sodium, chloride, and water across intestinal membranes, but it's not the only method. Sodium can be absorbed through other mechanisms in the gut. Phosphorus, butyrate, potassium, and chloride can all help mediate the transport of sodium and other electrolytes across the cell membrane.
Main takeaway = We need Sodium.
Although sodium may have earned a bad rap over the years, we can't overlook its importance in the human body, especially for athletes in training. Sodium levels influence muscle contraction, nerve function, fluid balance, blood pressure, and nutrient absorption. Sodium deficiency can lead to poor athletic performance, headaches, muscle cramps, and brain fog.
The dietary reference intakes in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. However, athletes may require higher sodium intake if they lose copious amounts of sodium through sweat.