For decades, sodium has been labeled as “unhealthy,” with many institutions urging people to eat less of it. However, our bodies actually need it to function properly. Sodium is actually a naturally occuring nutrient, specifically an electrolyte. This nutrient helps to maintain normal nerve function, muscle function, and keeps your blood cells (and the fluid cells surrounding them) balanced. 

When we don’t have enough sodium in our diet, it actually puts our bodies at risk. 

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How Much Sodium Should I Have a Day? 

A typical adult in the United States actually consumes more than the recommended amount of salt daily. Most of this intake comes from our diet, because it is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Many people, especially in the fitness industry, are concerned about this and eat a low-sodium diet. 

The recommended daily sodium intake has been debated for years, but everyone’s bodies are different and require different amounts of the mineral in their diet. The American Heart Association recommends that the average American should ideally consume no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. The Institute of Medicine agrees with the American Heart Association, also recommending only 1500mg per day.

For someone who is more active, having more salt in their diet is actually vital to maintaining good health. This is because it is required for nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Having low sodium levels can cause muscle cramps and muscle tears. 

How Does Sodium Help to Maintain Good Health? 

Health risks can always arise with over or under consumption of salt. Over consumption leads to high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease. However, there’s not enough evidence to show that reducing your sodium intake actually decreases the risk of these health concerns. 

Active individuals don’t need to be as strict with their sodium intake as others who have a sedentary lifestyle. When exercising, you sweat, and when you sweat you’re losing sodium. So, after exercising you’ll need to replenish it. This can be through your diet by eating foods with that contain salt or drinking fluids that replenishes electrolytes. Doing this helps prevent muscle cramps, muscle tears, and improves your recovery time. 

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What About Water Retention? 

Some athletes will lower their sodium consumption in order to eliminate any chance of retaining too much water. Someone who is less active should reduce their intake to help with this problem, but active individuals shouldn’t. 

When someone is trying to improve their cut, they usually will restrict their sodium intake and their carbohydrate intake. But, when you sweat during exercise, you lose more sodium. If you’re an excessive sweater or are doing a high intensity workout, even more will be lost. Also, muscle cramps and tears are more likely to occur if both carbohydrate and sodium levels are low. 

Best Ways to Deal with Sodium 

How much sodium a body needs is going to differ from person to person. While it’s best to speak with your personal trainer on how to handle your intake, following these few guidelines can’t hurt. 

Don’t Limit Yourself, But Don’t Go Overboard

It’s never a good idea to go overboard on your sodium intake whether you’re active or not. But, if you are active, that doesn’t mean you should limit your intake either. As long as you follow a balanced diet plan, your intake should naturally be within a healthy zone. 

Cook at Home More

A great way to help balance your sodium intake is to cook at home. When cooking your own meals, you know what is going into your food and what isn’t, so you can keep unnecessary salt out of your food. A great way to do this is to create a meal plan so you know what you’ll be having each day of the week. 

We all want food to taste good, so when we’re cooking we can unnecessarily load up our food with salt. A lot of foods have an increased amount of the mineral in them to help with the flavor. Check the ingredient label on all of your food to see how much MSG, salt, and sodium nitrate is in your food. If you’re worried about how much salt is in your food, you can substitute other spice mixes for salt. You can use curry powder, citrus zest, and other fresh herbs to add flavor to your meals without using salt. 

Eating more potassium is also a good way to balance out the sodium in your diet. Low potassium causes fatigue and cramps for your muscles, so adding it to your diet is recommended when working out. However, the mineral also helps your kidneys by increasing the amount of salt they can flush out of your system. Now, not a lot of Americans eat enough potassium to have a balanced sodium and potassium ratio. But, a great way to balance this is by adding more fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and legumes to your diet. 

Looking to balance out your sodium intake? Revival Fitness, the best personal trainer in Rhode Island, can help by creating an individualized meal plan that pairs with your fitness goals.