Everything You Need To Know About Running And Sodium
Importance Of Sodium For Runners
What could be worse than hitting the zone just to find you are kicked out of it and brought to a sudden halt by painful debilitating cramps? If it happens frequently you could find yourself holding back when you should be going for the big push, rendering your efforts to exercise pointless. Thankfully, the muscle cramps are something you can avoid with a little know-how. Here is some advice for cramp free running and exercise you can take with a pinch of salt.
Sodium And Exercise
As an electrolyte, sodium is of immense importance to the body to regulate and maintain proper cellular function. Without it, your body will fail to maintain and regulate its fluid balance which will affect nerve and muscle cell function. You usually get this electrolyte in table salt, which is actually a combination of chloride and sodium. Your sodium levels can be affected if you urinate or sweat excessively making sodium levels of particular importance to runners and athletes since there are severe health problems implications when levels are either too high or too low.
Runners lose sodium as they run and sweat. This suggests that runners and endurance athletes are going to need more sodium compared to an average Joe. Ideally, adults need to restrict their sodium intake to 1,500mg a day, but most adults do fine if their sodium intake stays under 2,300mg. Interestingly, you get your full quota of 2,300mg of sodium in a teaspoon of table salt, which suggests most adults are taking way more the recommended daily requirement, and that can lead to several health problems, including cardiovascular disease. You may be taking a large amount of sodium if you’re into over processed food and make poor dietary choices.
However, it is important to note that active people and runners can afford to take more salt than recommended for the average person when they are losing most of the sodium through sweat. Your body tries to cool it down through sweating and that helps you perform high-intensity exercises like Tabata training. A liter of sweat can contain anywhere between 500mg to 2,400mg of sodium, but athletes and runners may lose more than 8,000mg of sodium during an hour of intense training. But this is not the same for every athlete and runner. In fact, you may sweat more and lose more sodium when you’re a novice and just beginning your training compared to trained athletes. Also, male athletes tend to lose more compared to women.
The Connection Between Sodium And Cramps
As mentioned already, there is a connection between your sodium intake and your performance as a runner, but it is often hard to tell how much sodium an athlete needs because of different variables. However, you need to listen to your body when running, and one signal that you might need more sodium is if you begin experiencing cramps. During long runs, inadequate salt levels can result in muscle cramps, and that is because you are sweating a lot. Your body tries to take regain equilibrium by initiating several hormonal releases which help regulate sodium. But, sometimes, your body fails to keep up with the speed at which you lose sodium through sweat, leading to a dangerous drop in the sodium levels resulting in a condition called hyponatremia. Before you develop hyponatremia, you will experience muscle twitches and cramps.
Besides many other functions, one of the many roles of sodium is to regular muscle contractions through nerve impulses. This means that a drop in sodium levels would result in your nerve signals going haywire with outcome being cramps. Taking more sodium around your workouts may help prevent this situation. However, if you experience muscle cramps often, you need to pay closer attention to your body chemistry, which may be different from your running partners. Other variables resulting in muscle cramps include sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, carbs intake, fluid intake, and body temperature regulation. Sometimes, you may be taking enough sodium, but may be low on magnesium or carbs, which may be the reason why you find yourself prone to cramping.
Benefits Of Maintaining Sodium Levels For Runners
Taking enough sodium through correct dietary sources if essential for runners so here are some of the main benefits for not ignoring how much sodium your body is losing and how much more is needed.
1. It helps Maintain Fluid Balance
Without enough sodium, the hydration process will not work efficiently because sodium plays a role in elevating the fluid absorption rate. During long-distance runs, your body uses its resources to maintain a higher blood volume, which is important for regulating heart rate and body temperature. Your body cannot perform these functions in the absence of adequate sodium. Some studies have also found that sodium intake during intense exercise can help prevent hyponatremia.
2. It Supports Muscle Contraction
By now, you have gathered the fact that sodium is important and one of its main benefits is related to muscle contraction. By taking enough sodium and replacing the amount lost during exercise, you can facilitate a proper nerve function that results in healthy muscle contraction and prevention of heat cramping. You will be able to have stronger strides when your muscles contract properly.
3. It Supports Proper Nerve Transmission
By consuming an adequate amount of sodium while keeping your physical activity in mind, you will be able to support proper nerve transmission. At the same time, this will promote proper muscle and brain function. Without sodium, your body will not be able to transmit electrical signals. If the levels are too high or too low, the nervous system will get affected and you may experience a cellular malfunction.
4. It Works With Other Electrolytes
Sodium is essential for the maintenance of correct electrolyte levels in the body, as it works with magnesium, calcium, and potassium to ensure proper brain and muscle function. Any electrolyte imbalances can directly affect your performance as a runner.
5. It Supports You As A Runner
In fact, maintaining the right sodium and electrolyte levels is essential to your success as a runner. If you’re not properly hydrated, you won’t have the energy to push yourself to the limit and beat your previous best as a runner. Some studies have found that you can reach a state of ‘voluntary hyperhydration’ by increasing your consumption of sodium, which in turn, will have a positive effect on your athletic performance. In fact, it is found that sodium is not going to be a cause of concern for runners, so long as they are not hypertensive – then they need to be more cautious particularly if there is a family history of hypertension. Other than that, there is no problem in raising your sodium intake when you’re a trained athlete or advanced runner. Nevertheless, it makes sense to pay attention to the type of food you’re including in your diet to increase your sodium intake. Similarly, you may enjoy better results replacing table salt with sea salt because sea salt offers iron, zinc and many other micronutrients that aren’t in large quantities in regular salt. Here are some foods that will help satisfy your salt cravings along with offering some nutritional benefits that will supercharge your running.
- Black olives: You can opt for black olives when you’re running for long because they not only provide you with high-quality sodium but also offer monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, and iron. You get 200mg of sodium from 6 olives.
- Cheese: Along with getting about 175mg of sodium from 1oz of cheese, you will also be getting up to 20% of your recommended daily intake of calcium.
- Whole-grain Pretzels: Opt for a 2oz serving of whole-grain pretzels and you will be getting around 116mg of sodium.
- Deli Turkey: Go for a serving of 28g of deli turkey and you will get around 270mg of sodium along with 5g of high-quality protein.
- Salted Almonds: An ounce of salted almonds provide you with 96mg of sodium and also help you get a good dose of monounsaturated fat along with vitamin E.
- Chicken-noodle Soup: A cup of chicken-noodle soup is going to provide you with 460mg of sodium, but it also pack a punch when it comes to carbs and protein.
- V-8 Juice: By going for an 8oz of V-8 juice, you will be getting about 590mg of sodium.
If you want to enjoy cramp free running and exercise, think chemistry. Like a well oiled machine, your body needs some micronutrients and needs them in balance. The salts and minerals you lose through sweating need to be replaced instantly if your nerves and muscles are to continue to work at super efficiency. Beginning your exercise with a little in reserve is not a bad thing when you know you are going to end all sweaty, so chewing down on a handful of almonds or a chunk of cheese and some olives washed down with juice is a small price to pay to get you through the burn cramp free. Watching your salts and listening to your body you can continue your progress smashing your personals goals to enjoy pain free rewards for your efforts.
Ask the doctor: Exercise and sodium, Harvard Health Publishing