Athletes and salt

Salt is a compound of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. The sodium helps maintain proper fluid balance between the water in and around your body's cells; thus, you do need some sodium—about 1,000 milligrams per day. Many Americans, however, routinely consume up to seven times that amount.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (a teaspoon of salt is about 2,300 mg). You lose sodium when you perspire heavily, and some athletes lose more than others. Most active people, though, can get adequate sodium from the amounts that naturally occur in foods. If you will be exercising moderately hard for more than four to six hours in the heat, you should purposefully consume salt. You should also consume salt if you exercise intensely for shorter periods. For example, the sodium in the sweat of professional football players varied widely from about 1,500 to 11,000 milligrams during two-hour summer practices (Greene et al. 2007). See chapters 8 and 10 for information on replacing sodium lost in sweat.

The daily value for sodium seems low for sweaty athletes. Consuming a low-sodium diet may be less of a priority if you routinely train hard and sweat heavily, have normal or low blood pressure, and have no family history of hypertension. If you have low sweat losses, however, reducing your daily sodium intake is likely a wise health investment.

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