This electrolyte that we like to call table salt is responsible for the flow of water throughout the body as well as the contraction of our muscles. Rarely deficient, we often over-consume sodium, which can have negative effects. While this mineral is necessary, proper use and balance with other electrolytes is essential.
Other names for Sodium
salt, sodium chloride
Where to find Sodium
Sodium is found naturally in seafood, beef, and poultry; kelp, sea vegetables, celery, beets, and carrots; as well as in all processed foods and hydration drinks (like Gatorade).
Popup: Foods highest in Sodium
The Daily Value for Sodium is 2400 mg.
Why athletes use Sodium
Athletes may use sodium, often within an electrolyte drink, to prevent dehydration and muscle cramping during intense workouts, especially in hot weather. While the average diet often supplies more than enough, hot weather and/or excess sweating can increase our needs. Nonetheless, it's likely the only athletes to really benefit from increased independent sodium intake are ultra-endurance athletes.
- Support healthy muscle contractions by improving the flow of water across cell walls
- Prevent dehydration, muscle cramps, and sunstroke by replacing essential electrolytes that can be lost during intense training or in hot weather
Signs of Sodium deficiency
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Potential uses for Sodium
Research indicates that Sodium may be useful in the treatment of:
More about Sodium
Sodium is most frequently combined with chloride to form table salt, which is used in both processing and preparing foods for taste and as a preservative. The highest concentration of salt is found in processed and restaurant foods, but it is also used for pickling, curing, and preserving foods for storage.
Sodium is an ion, or electrical messenger, that is naturally present in the body. We need to consume some sodium on a daily basis because it helps regulate some of the most basic of bodily functions — specifically those having to do with water.
You see, water naturally follows sodium. And with help from the kidneys, sodium appears to guide water in and out of the body's cells, keeping the cells balanced. This balance of sodium is responsible for contracting and relaxing each and every muscle in our bodies.
Few people lack enough sodium because it is used so widely, but excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, as well as diuretic use can increase our needs for this mineral.
Athletes in particular may need to combat dehydration and sunstroke when exercising in warm weather because extreme sweating can cause greater fluid loss. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping, confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, and low blood pressure. That's where sodium comes in: research indicates that fluids which contain 50 to 100 mg of sodium, such as Gatorade and other sports drinks, may help the body rehydrate more quickly and easily.
Sodium is also needed to maintain correct blood volume in the body, yet too much sodium will increase the blood volume, which then increases blood pressure.
Most Americans actually consume too much sodium, which may lead to higher risks for heart disease, osteoporosis, liver, and kidney disease as well as worsening symptoms of both asthma and PMS. Most experts agree that a reduced salt intake, including those found in processed foods, combined with eating more fruits and vegetables, may decrease these risks.
Still, sodium does have a vital role in our bodies' functioning and may even be needed to aid in rehydrating the body faster when training intensely on a hot summer day, especially for ultra-endurance athletes.
To promote hydration, 920 to 2,300 mg may be used, but your diet generally supplies all the sodium you need, unless you're an ultra-endurance athlete.
Depending on the length of the event, ultra-endurance athletes may start salt loading two to three days before the event, or they may use sodium after an event to rehydrate.
Synergists of Sodium
Potassium and sodium work together in the body to regulate water. The ideal ratio is 2 to 1 potassium to sodium.
Sodium may increase the absorption of magnesium.
Safety of Sodium
High blood pressure has often been linked to excessive sodium intake.
Excess salt consumption has also been linked to certain PMS symptoms, such as water retention.
A low level of sodium, while consuming excess water, may cause hyponatremia, which is low sodium concentrations in the body that may cause nausea, muscle cramps, and confusion.
Toxicity of Sodium
Excess sodium may also cause hypertension and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Although salt is relatively safe in moderate amounts, for general well-being, no more than three grams per day should be consumed.
Bans and restrictions
- Luetkemeier, M.J., et al., "Dietary Sodium and Plasma Volume Levels with Exercise," Sports Med 23.5 (1997) : 279-86.
- Tobian, L., "Dietary Sodium Chloride and Potassium Have Effects on the Pathophysiology of Hypertension in Humans and Animals," Am J Clin Nutr 65.2S (1997) : 606S-11S.
- Vrijens, D.M., and Rehrer, N.J., "Sodium-Free Fluid Ingestion Decreases Plasma Sodium During Exercise in the Heat," J Appl Physiol 86.6 (1999) : 1847-51.
- Weinberger, M.H., "Sodium Chloride and Blood Pressure (editorial)," N Engl J Med 317.17 (1987) : 1084-6.