Salt gets a bad rap. It’s been long believed that too much salt (sodium) causes hypertension and high blood pressue, which in turn can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular ailments. But a recent study published in the August 2011 issue of American Journal of Hypertension involving 6,250 subjects, found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death. In fact, it was found that the risk for heart disease was 56% higher for the low-salt group. The conclusion that researchers came to was, the less salt you eat, the more likely you will die from heart disease, something that completely contradicts conventional views.
So how much salt do we need? According to a study in 1991, people need about one and one-half teaspoon of salt per day. That’s about 7,400mg. This number is higher than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 2,400mg. Why the difference? The study found that anything less than 7,400mg triggers a cascade of hormones to recuperate sodium from the waste stream, hormones that make people vulnerable to heart disease and kidney problems. What happens if you consume “too much” salt? You will become thirsty, drink water and then urinate out the excess sodium. Your body is wise, it will self-regulate.
What does this all mean for athletes? Salt is a necessary electrolyte. As athletes, it’s imperative we get the proper amount of salt in our diet as we lose salt during exercise through sweating. The more we sweat, the more we lose. It’s important to replenish the loss through electrolyte drinks post-workout or post-race, or by adding a little extra salt to your diet.
So next time you want to pinch a little salt on your food or enjoy a margarita with salt on the rim – do it! Your body body needs it. It will thank you.