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Sodium is your friend and not always your foe

Georjia Motta

Sodium is your friend and not always your foe, especially for sweaty athletes and active individuals.  We've all been sweaty, rather from hard exercise or outdoor work. When we sweat we lose electrolyte minerals that keep our body electrically charged and all systems running smooth, especially our heart.

I was recently reminded of this the other day in hot June in Arizona while working in my yard around 4 pm after having taught two fairly strenuous exercise classes. After about an hour an a half working in the 118 degree sun I came in the house exhausted. The sun and heat are usually not a problem for me and I'm a regular summer hiker, but this day was different. I raced out the door in the morning about 7 and forwent my smoothie drink and only had a hand-full of cherries and a handful of unsalted nuts and a sip of juice. I did manage to drink plenty of water and later had a hard boiled egg and a few dried apricots. I got home around 2 and wanted to get right on my yard work. After I came in from my yard work I grabbed a few more dried apricots and jumped into the shower and told myself I'd eat in a bit. The shower and apricots helped but I was still dragging. I wasn't ready to eat dinner yet so I filled a small bowl with some Naked Popcorn, which doesn't have much salt, so I sprinkled some pink Himalayan salt, which luckily contain sodium and trace elements. I pretty much scarfed down a couple handfuls. Boom, I got my energy back just like that!

Sodium (chloride) is the first of the electrolytes to go when we sweat  or lose fluids and potassium next. The electrolytes are made up of sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. Sodium helps to retain water and that can be a good thing, especially in a case like mine. The average person needs no more than about 2,000 mg of sodium daily and replenishment upon heavy sweating. Most processed packaged foods have more than enough so consumers of this type of diet can afford to sweat a bit out. In two hours of heavy exercise your sweaty self loses about 1,000 mg of sodium and if you were depleted or on the margin before hand you will likely feel the effects of no energy and even a bit sick to your stomach, cramp or twitch, confused, or foggy. You will do well to eat a bit of salty food like pickles, salted nuts, chips, olives, or my favorite...popcorn. If you also add in a bit of potassium rich food like fruit or fruit juice you will help your electrolyte balance even more and bounce back with energy.

When we regularly eat a diet rich in the electrolytes that balance sodium we are also less likely to have an imbalance problem, unless of course you do sweat heavily. Some of us are so depleted in our nutrients that we don't even need to sweat much to have these imbalances.

Also, too much sodium, especially if done regularly and not used up, as in the case above, will hold excess water in the body and raise the bloods pressure and can lead to issues with the heart, arteries, and kidneys. Keeping the body well hydrated will also serve to flush sodium if too much is being retained.

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