Most people are concerned with having too much sodium in their diet. But you really do need sodium to help your nerves and muscles perform correctly, and sodium helps regulate your blood pressure and control your blood volume, too. In that light, it's logical that not everyone needs to reduce their sodium, and some people may even need to increase it, especially if they work out aggressively and their water intake is inconsistent.
What Happens During Exercise
When you work out, especially if your intensity is high, you'll be sweating up a storm. The "Men's Health Maximum Muscle Plan" by Thomas Incledon and Matthew Hoffman says that you could sweat away as much as 2 liters of water in just an hour, and that you'll lose sodium through perspiring, too. In addition to how much and how intensely you exercise, simply overheating or working out in the heat will affect your sodium levels.
You probably keep a bottle of water at the ready when you work out so you can conveniently rehydrate as you exercise. That's basically a good idea, but a problem can occur when you drink large amounts of water while you're sweating away sodium. Doing that can cause hyponatremia, a dangerous condition in which your sodium levels are too low and the water content in your blood is too high. The Mayo Clinic says that the symptoms of this condition are confusingly similar to those of simple dehydration, which is dangerous in itself, as you could tend to just drink more water if you have muscle cramping, feel nauseated and disoriented. Guzzling water when hyponatremia is the cause of your symptoms will make matters worse and can lead to seizures, coma or possibly death.
Drinking water to stay hydrated while exercising is better than not hydrating at all, but a better solution is to drink a sports drink instead. These specialized drinks are formulated with electrolytes to help keep your system balanced, replenishing your sodium levels while rehydrating you. Also, if you aim to drink a certain amount of water each day, don't drink your goal amount all at once. Stew Smith of Military.com cautions that no matter what your sodium intake is, you run the risk of water intoxication if you drink an excessive amount -- which could be as little as 1/2 gallon if your sodium is low -- in one shot.
Talk to Your Doctor
It's always wise to consult your doctor before self-prescribing a high-sodium or a low-sodium solution for yourself. Increasing your sodium intake because you fear hyponatremia can be dangerous if your sodium levels are naturally high. Your doctor can test your blood to see where your sodium is at. He will consult with you to advise whether your intense workouts require sports drinks for rehydration or, if your sodium levels are on the high side, water may be sufficient.
- MedLine Plus: Sodium in Diet
- Mayo Clinic: Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?
- Mayo Clinic: Hyponatremia
- Military.com: Drinking Too Much Water
- Men's Health Maximum Muscle Plan; Thomas Incledon and Matthew Hoffman
- Stay Healthy, Be Happy, Live Longer, in Whatever Way Suits You Best; Brian Lindsay
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.