I recently heard someone mention that they were taking salt supplements to help with hydration while working out in the summer heat. I was curious as to what the scientific reports and assessments of this type of practice were so I did a little research.
One interesting article I found was that in general, restricting salt intake is not recommended like it had been in the past. The CDC recently published a new report that stated that findings from new studies changed the old thought that salt causes high blood pressure and is in general not good for most people. The new information actually states that it is probably worse for you to restrict salt intake too much, and that most people don’t need to worry about salt intake, particularly if they just focus on eating a healthy diet. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=18311&page=1
I then looked at some National Institutes of Health journals to find studies specific to athletes and sodium supplements. Many of the reports I found said that high intensity athletes do think they need to consume more sodium in order to stay hydrated. For some this is true and for others it isn’t. One piece of advice that was given consistently was that if there was a concern of dehydration, the athlete should monitor their own sodium intake and levels, and only focus on increasing salt if they experience signs of dehydration. Everyone has a different amount of salt in their sweat, so to say that all high intensity athletes need more sodium is not accurate…it depends on how much you sweat, and how much salt you loose. Replenishing all electrolytes is important, which includes sodium, potassium, and chloride. Hydrating with pure water before athletic activities, and monitoring fluid intake during exercise, should be focused on, before trying to replenish lost sodium and electrolytes after a workout. Performance will be enhanced if hydration is adequate before training and will help prevent dehydration. Studies showed that many athletes begin exercise dehydrated and then, depending on the environment and activity, are unable to perform as well and also dehydrate more quickly. So a proactive and effective routine of water hydration before exercise, and then electrolyte and sodium rehydration as needed, is the best practice in general. Remember not to drink too much water, but pay attention to your levels of sweat and hydrate enough to adequately fuel your body.