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Oklahoma Sports and Fitness May/June 2014 : Page 12

Sodium: The Misunderstood Nutrient Could It Be An Athlete's Best Ally? NUTRITION | SLOAN T A YLOR, MS, CSSD, RD/LD Answer this question: sodium is a) b) c) d) e) f) g) a chemical element listed in the Periodic Table a word equated with table salt an overused component in American food preparation a preservative a nutrient essential for life but rarely deficient in diets an electrolyte that can stabilize athletic performance all of the above If you answered (g) then you would be correct. Sodium is about half the component of what we call table salt, also known as sodium chloride. Table salt is used in abundance in Western cuisine, and likely you’ve heard how it’s overused to the point of risking our health. It’s the sodium portion (not so much the chloride) of this compound that can pose a health risk. Many people call it salt, but let’s agree to call the element in question by its true name: sodium. So what makes sodium essential for life if this so-called nutrient has such a bad reputation? The human body requires sodium to maintain blood pressure, to send nerve impulses, and this essential mineral is involved in all muscle contraction. Clearly, these are important for any athletic endeavor. Sodium is a misunderstood nutrient that is actually an athlete’s best ally when you think of maintaining fluid balance, promoting the absorption of glucose (think carbs), and executing muscle contraction. That’s what makes an athlete successful: controlling the muscle contraction and performing at the highest intensity you have trained for -not consistently fighting isolated muscle cramps. It can be amusing how many people blame potassium, but it’s more often a sodium issue (if you want to point a finger at an electrolyte). Find an athlete suffering from sodium deficiency and you will find a person who is potentially nauseated, dizzy, weak, and simply cannot perform well. Athletes often require more sodium than the general population because we utilize more of it and we also lose more of it via sweat. How much is too much? How much is not enough? Why do we keep hearing different amounts as the “healthy” amount? Let’s start with how much we need to simply function properly. The human body requires a minimum of 500 milligrams (mg) per day. The most current recommendation by the Institute of Medicine (the federal agency who sets the government-issued dietary boundaries) is for a person to consume an Adequate Intake (AI) of 1,500 mg per day with an Upper Limit (UL) of 2,300 mg. 1 To put this into perspective, consider that one teaspoon of table salt has 2,400 mg of sodium. That’s right, your one teaspoon that you added to your meal actually exceeds the upper limit for the entire day per these guidelines. Now consider if you have a salt-sensitive adult who suffers from hypertension (high blood pressure) and it makes sense why sodium can be construed as an insidious culprit 12 MAY / JUNE 2014 | OKSPORTSANDFITNESS.COM

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