Salt and sodium are not the same. Salt is made up of both sodium and chloride. A small amount of salt is important for good health – it helps to maintain the correct volume of circulating blood and tissue fluids in the body, it helps with nerve transmission and it is involved in the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
Sodium is regulated by the kidneys. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and many other health conditions. Too little salt can also cause an increase in the sodium levels in the body. As with everything it is about balancing- not too much or too little, just like everything in life.
Dr Helen Delichatsios at the Harvard Medical School states,"Your body works to maintain a delicate balance of sodium and water. When we eat salt (sodium) the body pulls in or holds onto to extra fluid to keep this balance. The extra fluid increases blood volume. “If there’s more fluid in your blood vessels, there’s more circulating blood volume, and that raises blood pressure.” Having high blood pressure increases your risk for a heart attack or a stroke and even osteoporosis.
It is not so much the salt that we sprinkle over the food which is increasing our levels; it's the hidden salt in the processed foods which we are eating. There are the obvious ones such as chips, popcorn, canned foods including soups and processed meats such as bacon, salami ham and hot dogs. But sodium is also found in bread and rolls, pizza, poultry, sandwiches, cheese, and pasta and other sauces. A bowl of cornflakes has about the same amount of salt as a small packet of plain chips and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce can have as much as 1350mg of sodium.
Sweat contains between 2.25 - 3.4 grams of salt per litre, so if racing on a hot day for long period of time you could easily lose around a litre of sweat. Thus making sodium an important consideration of longer event racing but not so much in shorter distances where duration is less than an hour. Recovery drinks and food replenishing will provide ample sodium replacement. (A good quality sports drinks will also replenish other electrolytes lost through sweat including magnesium, calcium and potassium)
Often the muscle cramps that occur during exercise are from dehydration and not lack of salt. The best way to prevent cramps while training and racing is to drink plenty of water on hot days as well as before, during and after the event.
How to reduce your salt intake
Check and compare food labels on the products that you are purchasing from the supermarket. Look for low sodium foods (contains less than 120mg/100g) but also
- Consume extra fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods for potassium, magnesium and calcium.
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and fatty meats.Avoid as much as possible processed foods- whole foods are a much better option.
- If you are using canned lentils or beans rinse before adding them to your meal and you will decrease the sodium content by around 40 %
- Add flavour to your foods with fresh herbs or spices which have health properties and flavour.
- Limit the amount of refined and pre packaged instant foods in the diet such as canned or packaged soups, pastas, white breads,
Your taste buds will get used to the changes, your heart will thank you for it and a PB may be coming your way
So pass ON the salt!!