Monday, July 11, 2011

Salt of the Earth - Rethinking Sodium and Hydration.

 One of the things I've noticed since adopting a low carb way of eating was the increased frequency of cramping during (and after) exercise with occasional dizziness upon standing.Cramping was an issue in two of three competitions so far this season, occurring late in both the Falmouth and Riverport road races. Dehydration was the logical suspect so I have increased my overall daily water intake. The issue has remained despite my updated hydration regimen so needless to say I had an "aha" moment when I read this ......

"When sodium levels fall below a critical threshold (which can happen within a short time), symptoms often occur, the most common being fatigue, headache, cramps and postural hypotension.Postural hypotension happens when you stand up too quickly and feel faint..... It’s a sign of dehydration.......It’s really easy to fix – you simply need to take more sodium and drink more water. Increasing sodium is just another one of the many counter-intuitive things about low-carb dieting. Just like eating more fat to lower your cholesterol. You’ve got to start thinking differently. The low-carb diet is one that absolutely requires more sodium. "

Not only had I switched to a low carb diet, ceased eating processed foods(usually full of sodium) but I also adhered to the paleo belief that salt is not optimal so I began limiting my consumption last year.

 Factoring in the sports I participate in(cycling, ball hockey and running), the amount of perspiration that occurs and my avoidance of sugary sport drinks(which offers sodium) it is possible my electrolyte/hydration balance may, on occasion, be suspect?

Last week I purchased some Baleine sea salt gathered the traditional way through the evaporation of sea water exposed to the sun. According to some it is healthier and contains other trace minerals not found in the highly processed table salt. Lots of arguments both ways on this sea versus table salt issue but the crux of the matter is I have begun to add some sodium back into my pre/post sport food preparations.

I continue to consume only water during exercise but have begun adding a few crystals of sea salt to my water bottles. Post exercise I have increased sodium usage during my recovery stage and have incorporated coconut water as an electrolyte replacement drink. Early results are positive, the postural hypotension seems better and the cramping has ceased.The litmus test will be Breakaway Cycling's Race Day stage race in mid August. Comprised of three (shorter) races in one day (ITT, road race, hill climb) under typically hot August weather it will be a challenge to stay hydrated.

My only concern was with the (generally accepted) correlation between elevated blood pressure and sodium usage? Coincidently I found this recently posted on

"This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. "

So if you are a healthy active individual with no hypersensitivity to sodium consuming salt may not be the dietary faux pas it has long been accused of being in regards to high blood pressure and coronary disease. For low carb (endurance) athletes salt may well have an important place within nutrition and recovery regimens.Very interesting......stay tuned.

2 comments: said...

I play a lot of competitive volleyball outdoors during the summer. This past weekend I put in about 7 hours on a very hot day, and afterwards, despite having drunk at least 4-5 liters of water, I got extreme cramps in my legs, including my shins, which is something I've never experienced. My foot curled up toward my shin and when I straightened out, my hamstrings cramped - pretty scary. I've been doing a low carb diet w/ intermittent fasting for about 3.5 months, most of it the Perfect Health Diet, which is where I turned for answers. This post seems to cover the problem:

Radhika Ganesh said...

Drinking a sufficient amount of water helps in the ability to function at its optimum level.

Nutrition and Hydration week 2014