Sodium has about the worst reputation of any element on the Periodic Table, especially for bodybuilders. Is this bad rap justified? Not even close.
You might think sodium is bad for a bodybuilder because it causes water retention. Plus, no less than the Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association tell you that the less salt and sodium you have in your diet, the better. Here’s the problem with accepting every report from mainstream media groups: they don’t take into account the needs of hardcore bodybuilders.
The IOM recommends 2,300 milligrams and the AHA recommends less than 1,500 mg per day for people aged 19–50. Believe it or not, these recommendations could actually be dangerous. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the National Dietary Guidelines suggested avoiding all fats, even those from nuts and olive oil, a recommendation that’s since been reversed. Could they be making the same mistake with sodium? We think so.
1. SODIUM VS. SALT
Although often used interchangeably, sodium and salt are not the same thing. Technically speaking, salt is sodium attached to chloride, and salt is only about 40% sodium. The sodium ion, which is positively charged, is critical to our survival. Along with potassium, sodium is responsible for allowing an electrostatic charge to build on cell membranes, such as nerve cells and muscle cells, which is basically how nerve impulses are generated and muscles contract. Without adequate sodium intake, our nerves and muscles would not work properly.
2. SODIUM AND H2O
Sodium also maintains our body’s water level. The body is made up of approximately 60% water, so it’s easy to see why this function would be important. Sodium is especially critical for maintaining blood volume (how much water your blood is composed of) and helping the kidneys determine how much water to excrete and how much water to hold in the body.
It’s true that taking in too much sodium can cause serious health consequences like high blood pressure, but that’s only in certain individuals (e.g., those with kidney issues or with a history of blood pressure issues). For the rest of us, getting in higher amounts of sodium just means our body will readily get rid of what it doesn’t need via urine and sweat.
BLOATED TRUTH | If you’re worried about looking bloated from a diet higher in sodium, don’t be. Remember that your body’s water levels are tightly regulated. Although short periods of high sodium intake will make you retain more water and short periods of low sodium intake will cause you to hold less water, you’ll retain the same amount of water over the long run, whether you follow a higher-sodium diet or a lower-sodium diet because your body will work to maintain a certain level of water. However, by eating a higher-sodium diet now, you not only gain the health and muscle-building benefits of sodium but also make it that much easier to drop water when you want to cut sodium for a short period to peak for a contest, photo shoot or day at the beach.
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