Salt and the Motocross Athlete
by Greg DiRenzo, CPT
You may have heard that a high salt/sodium intake causes high blood pressure and should be avoided. Well, that’s…not true.
You see, a high sodium intake does not cause hypertension (high blood pressure). The hormone aldosterone acts on the kidneys to conserve sodium for bodily functions; however, when sodium is consumed in high amounts, aldosterone release is blunted and any excess sodium will simply be excreted. As a result, sodium balance remains normal over a large intake.
Eat less of it and your body retains more; eat more and your body gets rid of what it doesn’t need. This is the case with all apparently healthy individuals who do not already have a blood pressure condition.
The only circumstance in which individuals may benefit by monitoring their sodium intake is if they have already been clinically diagnosed as suffering from hypertension and are also salt sensitive. I stress “and” because only 20% of the population is salt sensitive; so for 4 out of every 5 people suffering from hypertension, lowering sodium intake isn’t going to do much, if anything at all.
And even for those that are salt sensitive, the actual magnitude of the decrease in blood pressure as a result of the lowered intake may not even be substantial enough to warrant decreasing sodium consumption as a method to treat high blood pressure.
Now, I normally wouldn’t kick a myth when it’s down, but a high sodium intake can actually benefit athletes and fitness enthusiasts for the following reasons:
- A higher sodium intake yields a greater overall blood volume and blood flow to the working muscles. With increased blood flow, the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to the working muscles is maximized. This is particularly important when an amino acid containing beverage is consumed prior to the workout, as more aminos will be delivered to the working muscles, resulting in greater rates of protein synthesis and recovery. Also, increased blood flow will actually increase performance in that removal of various fatigue toxins (lactic acid, CO2, etc) will occur at a faster rate.
- It is the responsibility of sodium to deliver potassium into the cell membrane of muscle tissue. If not enough sodium is present, the body is forced to deliver the potassium via “active transport” across the membrane. In this case, active transport is not the preferred method of transportation and as a result less potassium will be transported across the membrane less often.
And yet another myth about sodium is that a high intake causes tons of water retention and a bloated appearance. While, yes, increased sodium intake will cause some initial water retention, the retention is only temporary. As soon as the body becomes accustomed to the higher intake, aldosterone release will be blunted and the excess water will be excreted.
So no, consuming high amounts of sodium does not cause hypertension (and is rarely effective by itself in treating the condition) and may actually be a good idea if you want to optimize your workout performance.
About the Author: Greg has over two decades of experience in exercise science and sports training. He holds several certifications in individual and group fitness instruction including TRX and sports performance. In motocross, he has worked with Phil Nicoletti, Jimmy Albertson and Trey Canard during Trey's 2008 East Coast Lites championship run. Visit Greg's website at ProFormers Training, on Twitter or Facebook. This guy is everywhere!
That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness.