Fitness, Nutrition

Time to Add Some Salt

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Soccer at the highest level can be very physically demanding.  Over the course of a 90-minute game, top level players can run up to 15 kilometres, including 2000-3000 metres at high intensity.  All that running has another important effect on players – it causes them to sweat.  A lot.  More, in fact, over a 2-hour time period than most healthy adults will sweat over the course of several days.  Recent research has shown that top level professional players can lose up to 5 grams (5000 Mg’s) of sodium during a regular 90-minute game in hot temperatures.  Sweat is the body’s mechanism for preserving its core temperature.  When we sweat, we are getting rid of excess heat in the form of water, while at the same time, also losing large amounts of one other important nutrient – sodium.  Sodium is an electrolyte – a form of salt – that is used by the body for muscle contraction, as well as other functions.  When sodium levels in the body get too low, proper muscle function becomes impossible, and there can be a serious risk of several different dangerous side effects, including seizures, coma, and even death.  Soccer players can be at risk of low sodium levels, based on the aforementioned large amounts of sodium they can lose through sweat when playing in the heat.

Now that you are sufficiently scared about the consequences of low sodium levels in soccer, here is the good news: most sports drinks, including Gatorade and Powerade, contain sodium.  Consumption of sports drinks during soccer games played in the heat, when a lot of sweating occurs, is thus a useful and recommended practice for soccer players.   The only problem with conventional sports drinks is this: most contain only 250 Mg’s of sodium in a standard sized 500-750Ml bottle.  As a result, players who sweat a lot in the heat (losing up to 5000 Mg’s of sodium) would need to consume an inordinate amount (16-20 bottles) of Gaotrade or Powerade in order to replenish all the sodium they lose.  So what’s the solution to this problem?  Simply add salt to your sports drink if it’s hot outside.  Salt, or sodium chloride, contains a high and concentrated dose of sodium, which is just what the body needs when playing soccer (and sweating) in the heat.  The exact amount of salt needed will vary greatly from person to person.  Start by making sure you consume 1 bottle (500-750Ml) of sports drink over the course of a 90-minute game whenever temperatures exceed 25 degrees Celcius.  The best way to determine exactly how much salt you need is to weigh yourself before and after a game.  If you lose less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) you will not need to consume more than 1 bottle of sports drink, and water.  If you lose more than 1 kilogram, it is likely that you are dehydrated, and would need to supplement your sports drink with a bit of extra salt/sodium.  A good guideline would be to start with a small amount (200-300 Mg’s).  Add this amount of salt to your sports drink, and see if the weight loss goes to under 1 kilogram.  If not, try adding another 200-300 Mg’s for the next game, and continue supplementing at this rate until you find the amount that works for you.  Once you find the right amount of salt/sodium, you should notice a significant improvement in performance and reduction in fatigue.  Always remember to drink as much water as possible in hot temperatures, regardless of how much sports drink you consume.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.     

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