Although many people embarking on a fitness routine think primarily in terms of calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates, minerals play a hugely important role in overall health. Potassium, which is found in a large variety of foods, plays a role in the health of your heart, lungs, kidneys and muscles. Hypokalemia -- low potssium levels -- can cause health problems and make exercising much more difficult.
Getting Enough Potassium
If you are worried that you have a potassium deficiency, talk to your doctor before taking vitamins or supplements. Many foods are excellent sources of potassium. Vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes and summer squash contain large quantities of potassium, as do fruits such as bananas and apricots. Milk, nuts, yogurt and soy-based products also contain potassium. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with potassium.
Potassium enables the body to build new muscle tissue and maintain the health of current muscle tissue. Because exercise taxes your muscles, a common side effect of low potassium during exercise is muscular weakness. You might feel weak and dizzy all over or feel as if your muscles aren't working right. Unusual pain or effort during physical tasks that are usually fairly easy could indicate a number of health conditions, including a potassium deficiency.
High Blood Pressure
Potassium plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure by helping the body excrete excess sodium -- a mineral that increases blood pressure. According to Colorado State University Extension, a diet high in sodium and low in potassium could be a significant contributor to high blood pressure. Exercise tends to raise blood pressure, because the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the organs and muscles; low potassium can elevate blood pressure even more, resulting in dizziness, chest pain, nausea and breathlessness.
Abnormal Heart Rhythms
Your heart is controlled by a complex electrical system that keeps heartbeats relatively regular and increases your heart rate when your organs and muscles need more blood. Potassium plays a crucial role in regulating the heart's electrical system, and low potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythms, particularly during exercise. You might feel as if your heart skips a beat, adds an extra beat or beats at an irregular pace.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.