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Sodium/salt: essential mineral against cramps & fatigue

General information about sodium

Sodium is a mineral found in all cells and body fluids. Sodium, together with chloride, forms the well-known table salt (NaCI). Both are vital for the body and, together with potassium, play an important role in the electrolyte and water balance of the body. 

Sodium and chloride are necessary to maintain various cell and body functions. These include the regulation of fluid volume, blood pressure and acid-base balance.

Most of the sodium (about 95%) is present in the extracellular space. This is the fluid outside the cell (e.g. blood plasma, tissue and lymph fluid). The remaining 5% are inside the cell.

Sodium makes up 0.15 percent of the human body. For a person who weighs 60 kg, this corresponds to about 90 g. For an athlete who weighs 80 kg, the sodium content is 120 g.

Sodium in food

Sodium is found in almost all foods – naturally and in the form of table salt.

Foods with low sodium content: vegetables, fruits, nuts (unprocessed) and generally unprocessed foods.

Foods with high sodium content: generally processed foods such as bread, cheese, sausages, and canned fish.

Sodium function and dosage

Your body needs sodium to work well and be efficient. As already mentioned, sodium plays a central role in various processes in our body. Here again an overview:

  • Regulation of the salt-water balance
  • Regulation of the acid-base balance
  • Maintenance of blood pressure and blood volume
  • Transmission of nerve impulses
  • Muscle contraction
  • Regulation of body temperature

In particular, the factors of fluid balance, balance of electrolyte levels, and functioning muscles make sodium a very important component of athlete nutrition.

Studies from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism have found that intentional overconsumption of water can be achieved through intense sodium intake. This, he said, has a positive effect on the body’s hydration status and performance during continued physical exertion in the heat.

The estimated value according to the D-A-CH reference values for an adequate intake for adults (25 to < 51 years) is 1,500 mg sodium/day.

Too much sodium

Sodium or salt does not always have the best reputation. Because of many processed foods, people often consume too much sodium and thus harm their health.

Research from Harvard’s School of Public Health has shown that an average of 3,300 mg of sodium is ingested each day in the United States. About 75% of these come from highly processed foods.

Too much sodium can promote high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, water retention and other diseases.

In any case, it is advisable to eat as little processed food as possible, but more fruits and vegetables. With a balanced diet, the body is able to constantly restore a healthy balance.

Sodium deficiency

In advance: A sodium deficiency (hyponatremia) also occurs rather rarely. This is because we usually automatically consume sufficient sodium with our daily food.

And if not: An insufficient intake of sodium through food is compensated for by hormonal mechanisms in the body by reducing excretion through the urine.

Nevertheless, in certain situations there may be an increased loss of sodium.

In the most common cases, this happens due to extreme sweating (during heavy physical exertion and/or high temperatures) or gastrointestinal inflammation. An overdose of diuretic medications combined with extremely increased water intake can also be a cause of sodium loss.

Symptoms of sodium deficiency include confusion, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Furthermore, lowered blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, (muscle) cramps and, in rare cases, coma may occur.

Sodium/salt in sports: the special importance

Sodium is therefore excreted in considerable amounts through sweat during exercise.

However, it is difficult to establish an exact figure, because sodium loss is very individual, depends on the sweat rate as well as external conditions (temperature, clothing, load, etc.).

In addition, sweat is hypotonic. This means that the loss of water through sweat is always greater than the loss of sodium.

Nevertheless, athletes should make sure that the loss of sodium through sweat does not become too great, so that a sodium deficiency does not occur (see above).

For athletes, a lack of sodium is particularly concerning, as it can lead to premature fatigue and the all-too-familiar muscle cramps.

The risk of hyponatremia is particularly high during high outdoor temperatures and long competitions such as ultra-events or triathlons. Water and sodium deficits during vigorous exercise can lead to heat stroke, cramps and exhaustion.

One study has shown that light exercise (40-50% VO2max) in hot environments (34-39°C) can induce heat exhaustion when significant fluid-electrolyte loss and cardiovascular stress are present.

Athletes who excrete a lot of sodium through sweat while consuming large amounts of low-sodium fluids may also have low sodium levels.

What can I do as an athlete to prevent a sodium deficiency?

Especially if you are an athlete who sweats more and/or exposes himself to extreme situations, it makes sense to deal with the issue of sodium intake.

We recommend sodium intake in conjunction with salty snacks and during exercise through special sports nutrition.

therefore contain all our training and competition products Sodium citrate and/or valuable rock salt. The carbohydrate drinks almost immediately replace the salt that you lose through sweat.

For athletes who generally sweat more and in hot temperatures, we have developed special “HEAT” products that have a higher salt content. Here we recommend SLOW CARB HEAT during long, rather loose endurance units and POWER CARB HEAT in intensive units and competitions.

This way you don’t have to worry about your sodium balance anymore – and you can easily prevent the possible negative effects.

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