Do Salt Supplements Boost Athletic Performance?
By Jessica Cho, HealthCorps Summer Intern 2019
The human body is remarkable. World records continue to be broken, new mountains are scaled, and greater distances are covered. Whether it be during a training session or on competition day, athletes strive to perform to the best of their ability to push the limits and achieve their goals. Sometimes, this means taking certain nutritional measures to heighten performance. One trend used by some athletes in hopes to boost performance is the consumption of supplements high in sodium or electrolytes.
Why You Need Salt
Salt is an electrolyte and is needed to maintain a proper balance of fluids both inside and outside the cells in your body. In addition to the regulation of fluids, salt is crucial for muscle and nerve function. You’ve probably noticed by now that sweat is a natural bodily response when you engage in certain levels of activity. Though the sticky droplets that fall from your hairline and trickle down your back may not be the most pleasant feeling, sweating is our way of regulating body temperature. Along with the sweat expelled through our pores, however, are primarily salts and other electrolytes. It’s important to replenish what is lost to keep our bodies in check.
Do Sodium Supplements Boost Athletic Performance?
Consuming increased levels of salt is believed to induce more sweat. This is especially desirable for athletes like endurance runners who remain active for prolonged periods of time. More sweat means increased regulation of body temperature by helping you cool off. The enhanced ability to regulate body temperature, in theory, should consequently help increase athletic performance. Using sodium supplementation, however, to help replenish diminished levels of salt in the body may not be necessary or effective. In fact, eating a normal diet is usually enough to get the job done. It’s also important to note that ingesting too much sodium increases the risk of health complications such as hypertension.
A small study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine challenges the use of salt pills to boost the athletic performance of endurance athletes. A group of 11 athletes were put through two exercise sessions. In the first session, participants were given a salt pill containing about 1800 mgs of sodium before beginning their exercise. In the second session, participants were given a placebo before the start of the second exercise. The athletes performed endurance exercise for two hours in each session. Researches ultimately found no difference in performance between the two exercise sessions.
In a competitive world, athletes strive to achieve peak performance. But, it’s important to take cautious measures when considering taking supplements. Though it is certainly good to ensure the replenishment of electrolytes in our bodies after they’ve been depleted, too much salt is associated with health risks. Know the current sodium intake guidelines (preferably under 2000 mgs per day) and take the idea of an additional sodium supplement to boost performance with well…a grain of salt.