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Salt and the Motocross Athlete

by Greg DiRenzo, CPT

The collective “skip the salt shaker” and “lower your sodium” advice is geared to the general population. The masses of inactive, overweight and obese inactive adults that populate the U.S. and many Westernized nations. But for athletes, salt is critical.

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. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    m c February 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

    very interesting read. i always hear people hating on salt. oh and greg you're hilarious on dmxs by the way.

  2. Gravatar
    JG February 24, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Interesting article here Greg, but the article has no references or scientific evidence. Where was it that you got your MD again?? I think its great that you've worked with big names in the sport, however, you dont hold a MD which means this article can be piled up with the other non-proven, under-researched statements that non-doctors typically make; those made in the training world. To say the least, I will take this read with a grain of salt, and will base my personal health decisions on proven, research, referenced, material that typically will come from a Doctor of medicine.

    PS. For you to say this is a myth, is ridiculous on the foundation of no evidential proof.

  3. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo February 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Dear Dr. JG,
    You are correct, I am not an MD, and I have worked with big names in MX, and still do. Thanks for clearing that up for the world to see. Are you an MD or trainer or just a random person in this world who is stealing valuable oxygen from athletes by your mere existence? But before I bash or attack you here I was wondering if having an education, experience and access to hundreds of medical books in my fathers library (yes he was a Surgeon MD) that I have read qualify me as an MD? (no it does not, see I even helped you out here and answered for you, your welcome) but it sure does help me with gaining knowledge and educating myself. But anyway doc, below are some of the references the info was based on. I would imagine that while getting your MD you have read these since most were published in the late 90s. So I guess now you can go to those journals and books, it is right there in the corner underneath all this non-proven, under-researched statements that us non doctors make, it is that stack right there that is all piled up in your corner, so give it a shot and read through them and try to comprehend the scientific evidence and proven research that is referenced in the material I listed below. Then make personal health decisions on proven, researched, referenced, material that typically will come from a Doctor of medicine. Better yet, do not read anything yet, first put the Atari controller down, you can get back to Dungeons and Dragons later, now go put some shorts on and change that dirty grungy wife beater you are wearing and start reading.

    PS: With all do respect, and I mean with all due respect, you seem to be a douche!

    McArdle, WD et al. Sports & Exercise Nutrition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999.

    Stamler, J. The INTERSALT study: background, methods, findings, and implications. Am. J. Clin. Nutri., 65(Suppl):626S, 1997.

    Ely, DL., Overview of dietary sodium effects on and interactions with cardiovascular and neuroendocrine functions. Am. J. Clin. Nutri., 65(Suppl):594S, 1997.

    Luft, GS et al. Heterogeneous responses to changes in dietary salt intake: the salt-sensitivity paradigm. Am. J. Clin. Nutri., 65(Suppl):626S, 1997.

    Midgley, JP., et al. Effect of reduced dietary sodium on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA, 275:1590, 1996.

  4. Gravatar
    bob February 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    lol thats funny right there. I'm not bashing the salt being good for you but this really is the first time i've ever heard this. I know your body needs salt, but there are so many claims that too much is bad. Who knows now a days anyways with whats good and whats bad. One day something is great for you the next day it could give you cancer. I suppose anyone who is serious into training could test it themselves.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Bob - Remember, this article is talking about athletes NOT the general public. Big, big, BIG difference!

  6. Gravatar
    bullitt269 February 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Nice article, a little relief actually, because i LOVE salt.
    Why is it that i eat more salt when i am really hungry?

  7. Gravatar
    m c February 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    HAHAHA gett emm gregg.

  8. Gravatar
    mark February 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    I just happened to hear a piece on the radio this week that stated the same thing.

    I agree.... JG is quite the douche.

  9. Gravatar
    GlennJ February 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    JG: Salt pills and high sodium drinks are staples in the diet of the high performance athlete. To not be aware of that is not a reflection on the author but rather a reflection on yourself. Another telling tidbit is your trusting of the traditional MD, who is not in any way trained or learned in the fields of high performance, athletics or even good health. The traditional med school training consists of healing people after they have become sick or injured, not in the prevention of sickness or the maximization of human potential.
    Greg: Good article
    Tim: Thanks once again for doing the column. Interesting reading always.

  10. Gravatar
    jairtime February 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I always maintain my minimum daily requirement of the big three: sugar, salt and fat. The brain needs them, the body's cells need them, and by God, I will consume them all with a vengeance that shall not soon be forgotten.

  11. Gravatar
    JG February 25, 2011 at 11:38 am


    Its seems your blood pressure is too high from reading this article, I'm gonna need you to reduce your salt intake(relax its a joke). These references were written about the time I got my Bachelor degree, yes. A few of them are relevant. And Atari? I'm game for some pong I guess. All joking aside, as someone of MD, I've seen way too many young athletes take advice from ill written articles saying, "oh I read it on the internet"..Its not a stab at you personally, but time and time again, health decisions are not advised properly on a given case. You said so yourself that intake depends on the individual, and that is my argument; monitoring salt intake is not a myth, it should be monitored on each individual case. Some of your references are studies on individuals over the age of 25...So you can you say that applies to the very young average age of this sport, i.e. your audience? Now that being said, if I'm a young athlete, like most in the sport, I'm going to read this article and I'm going to believe it, because if your 12 you dont know any better. Do you think its fair for that young individual to base his decision on this? On the douche comment, I dont think your classless, and think if you actually met me, you would think I'm alright. Gregg with all do respect, keep on training, but when you write, write with foundation. I think the next time you write, you'll remember "JG" and actually put up a very strong argument...that's the point. To become a respected writer of health topics, in the health world, you will get criticized get over it..I still do...Learn from them, its someone's perspective. I've never even owned a "wife beater"..ha

  12. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

    JG, I can appreciate your point of view on extrapolating data that was studied on one group to mean the gospel for another group. I have a Master's degree in Engineering and over 15 years experience studying, teaching, and training in the fitness industry. My engineering mind always takes over when it comes to studies and research. To me it is black and white with little gray. This is a great discussion, and I have to admit (I consider Greg a good friend and an intelligent trainer) when I first read Greg's article, I was like, oh man what in the heck is Greg talking about here. But after researching and reading several articles, I started to see what Greg was talking about. I think the distinction has to be clear that this article is directed at the Athlete not the general public. To me the last paragraph sums it up, "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."......the key words being "May actually".

    I love good discussion on an article and as you say Greg may learn from you the next time he writes an article, I too hope you can learn from your original comment. From my point of view and obviously Greg's your comment was more of an attack to make the author look bad than an effort to point out what you disagreed with. Your follow up comment was much more intelligent and respectful and for that I thank you. Just curious though of your qualifications? Thanks!

  13. Gravatar
    phil March 23, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Salt sure seems to cause me to add weight. When I travel for business, I do my best to eat healthy, but it is a real challenge on the road, especially if you're in smaller towns with limited restaurant choices. So I make up for my increased calorie intake by working out longer. But it never fails - I can leave at 191lbs, travel for 3-10 days, and when I get back I'm 195-196. Then two days later I'm back at 191 after resuming my normal diet.

    I've always thought this was salt related, since restaurant food seems much saltier than my homecooked food. Maybe it's something else?

  14. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I would point the finger at the excess calories from restaurant food and the larger portions. Try this next time and see if it helps. Every time you order, ask for a takeout box as soon as your food arrives. Put half of your meal in the box and then LEAVE it on the table when you leave. You would be amazed at how many calories you consume just grazing during lunch or dinner especially if it is a business affair.

  15. Gravatar
    Andy March 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    too much of anything is bad your body does need salt and not too much but fat asses sittin around eatin hamburgers and french fries without doin any physical excersize will not get rid of any excess anything so if u eat a high salt diet work out get rid of the excess and u wont get clots in ur arteries im no doctor and im thinkin JG is Josh Grant Which would mean he doesnt wear dirty wife beaters or play dungeons and dragons and im sure he is on a well diet since he races motocross if not dude u do need to put the controller down hahahaha you could say drinking beer is good for you which it is but one or 2 alchoholics will get liver disease from drinkin too much but if you drink one a day or 2 youll be good to go just everybody chill every(body) is different so what works for some might not work for others but this salt thing makes sense thanks for the advice

  16. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo April 08, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Tim - Great advice for Phil on the to go box and the extra calories! Being on the road is tough, it breaks the normal "routine" and your body knows that, so it gets a little confused, but once you get back home as you said Phil, it gets normal again.

    Andy - I know for a fact Josh has worn dirty ones and has a dungeon! LOL! But he's a great guy too!

  17. Gravatar
    Chad June 08, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    For the sake of friendly discussion, I have read the studies cited by Joel Marion (the guy who wrote this article almost 10 years ago), and I do not believe they do an adequate job of supporting the claims made by Greg (important parts were cut from the original). I recognize the difficulty in being sure of anything (I feel for Ryan Koontz having to deal with Gary Bailey showing up to argue cornering minutia), but when giving this sort of advice I believe it is important to at least not be wrong. Your readers deserve honest advice that is researched and understood by the author. I'm concerned that Greg has not actually read the supporting citations...

    I would agree that an article encouraging athletes to stay hydrated, and to get adequate sodium at the same time would be helpful. Recommending that any amount of sodium is ok, and that more increases blood volume and by extension (unwarranted logical leap?) muscle function, seems sensational.

    From three of the major sources:

    [1] "Because of a wide range of individual responses to low- and high-sodium diets, it may not be prudent to make the same dietary recommendations for everyone. Would we recommend an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor or a diuretic for all hypertensive individuals? As stress testing is used to push the heart and unmask potential problems with oxygen delivery, so perhaps should we develop standardized stress tests to identify people at high risk from a reduced or elevated sodium diet."

    I found this interesting. Athletes are individuals. Can we call the sodium hypertension link a myth for all athletes based on this study?

    [2] "The INTERSALT results, which agree with findings from other diverse studies, including data from clinical observations, therapeutic interventions, randomized controlled trials, animal experiments, physiologic investigations, evolutionary biology research, anthropologic research, and epidemiologic studies, support the judgment that habitual high salt intake is one of the quantitatively important, preventable mass exposures causing the unfavorable population-wide blood pressure pattern that is a major risk factor for epidemic cardiovascular disease."

    There is a lot in [2]. I can't claim to have even read every word, but what I have read does not support premise of the article. The caveats in the original bring it more in line, but Greg's version omitted critical points.

    [3] "Dietary sodium restriction for older hypertensive individuals might be considered, but the evidence in the normotensive population does not support current recommendations for universal dietary sodium restriction."

    If all athletes are young and normotensive, this one might be our best hope to quash the 'myth'. If not?

    You say the article is targeting athletes and not the general public, but the cited research does not support the articles conclusion for that demographic. So on what do we base the distinction?

    Finally, are you aware of any studies that support the notion that "higher sodium intake yields a greater overall blood volume and blood flow to the working muscles" (I haven't been able to find anything)? My understanding is that the kidneys detect the increase in blood volume and trigger aldosterone to maintain a balance (to pee or not to pee..). You have an overall increase in blood volume (assuming you are not dehydrated) until the body has opportunity to flush the sodium, but does that actually result in a performance gain?

    Interesting for sure.


    [1] Ely, DL., Overview of dietary sodium effects on and interactions with cardiovascular and neuroendocrine functions. Am. J. Clin. Nutri., 65(Suppl):594S, 1997.

    [2] Stamler, J. The INTERSALT study: background, methods, findings, and implications. Am. J. Clin. Nutri., 65(Suppl):626S, 1997.

    [3] Midgley, JP., et al. Effect of reduced dietary sodium on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA, 275:1590, 1996.

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    Temecula50 December 01, 2011 at 2:37 pm

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