5 Ways to Maintain Sodium Balance During Training & Recovery

Health & Wellbeing May 22 2014

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JULIAN WOODS“Sodium balance” refers to the maintenance of normal blood sodium levels. Maintaining a normal blood sodium level facilitates optimal functioning throughout your body. Two key areas that sodium has a major role in is maintaining blood volume within optimal limits, and facilitating the activity of muscle and nerve cells.

In its role in maintaining optimal blood volume, sodium can be thought of as a sponge acting within your blood, ‘attracting’ and ‘holding’ water you ingest. When you have large quantities of sodium your body will readily ‘soak-up’ water ingested to the point of optimal blood volume. Once normal blood volume is reached, excess water and sodium are excreted via urine. Inversely, having insufficient sodium will inhibit you from holding enough water to maintain optimal blood volume.

Increased sweating with exercise can lower blood volume. This is a problem for performance and recovery because blood is responsible for delivering nutrients and removing waste from active muscles. Thus, low blood volume may result in a reduced ability to work hard, and a slower recovery.

To be an effective facilitator of muscle & nerve cell activity sodium concentration in the blood must sit within specific limits. This is because nerve and muscle cells are active or inactive based on the concentration of sodium and other electrolytes inside and outside individual cells. Eating, drinking, sweating, breathing, and going to the toilet may slightly change the concentration of sodium, but generally your body keeps concentrations relatively constant.

The major concern regarding exercise and sodium concentration is when sodium is lost, predominantly via sweat, but not replaced. This may occur when drinking only water during and after a long, hot exercise session. In this situation, blood volume is lost via sweat, and the body attempts to counteract this by absorbing water. This will cause low blood sodium concentration, possibly resulting in:

1. Reduced nerve and muscle activity (e.g. fatigue/weakness), or
2. Overly active nerve and muscle cells (e.g. cramping and sensitivity).

So how can you help your body maintain sodium balance, and avoid the negative effects on performance and recovery?

My five tips for maintaining sodium balance during training and recovery:

1. Drink water everyday, throughout your day
A glass of water with and between each meal will keep water and sodium levels balanced.

2. Eat & Drink before exercise
A meal (not too big or you’ll feel bloated) with some salt content, along with a couple of glasses of water in the 2 hours before exercise. This will also ensure you have energy available for intense exercise.

3. Weigh yourself (clothes-off) before and after exercise
This will tell you how much water weight you’ve lost during exercise. Aim to recover your losses by drinking double this amount in the 4 hours following exercise (e.g. lose 1kg – drink 2 litres).

4. Drink (& eat) during exercise
During lengthy exercise drink 150ml every 15 min, and eat a small snack with salt content every 30 min – my favourite snack for long sessions is Dutch Licorice. Eating during shorter exercise sessions (less than 45 minutes) isn’t needed, just practice Tip 5.

5. Eat & Drink after exercise
A balanced meal with some salt content in the hour after exercise, and remember you should aim to consume double your weight loss in water after exercise.