As athletes, we are well aware that we lose salt in our sweat. It stings when we get it in our eyes and we can taste it when it ever-so-gently drips onto our lips. Our sports drinks boast that they provide electrolytes, including sodium of course. So are we getting enough? How do we know how much sodium is required? And is it possible to damage our bodies with a sodium overdose?
With hypertension (high blood pressure) on the rise in our country, as a Registered Dietitian, I am often stressing the importance of reducing sodium intake, which is of high priority for most Americans. However, low sodium levels are just as dangerous as high sodium levels. Runners need to be especially aware of this, as well as anyone that exercises regularly. Salt plays a role in numerous physiological aspects that relate to running performance, including working with potassium to maintain fluid balance, preventing cramping and hyponatremia (an abnormal level of sodium in the blood caused by excessive water diluting the sodium outside the cells.) Hyponatremia is particularly a concern for athletes exercising for more than four hours—which means the greatest risk for runners participating in marathons, ultramarathons and triathletes. Common symptoms of hyponatremia are confusion, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, nausea and bloating. Severe complications can include seizure, coma and death. As you can see, it’s clearly a serious condition and runners should constantly take preventative measures to avoid it.