Could a Low Salt Diet Be Negatively Impacting Your Performance?

If you do CrossFit or high intensity workouts, you sweat…a lot. Because of this, you have probably focused on re-hydrating by drinking water. And while drinking plenty of water is important, newly available research is showing that is only part of the equation.

In a recent interview on the High Intensity Health YouTube channel, Dr. James Dinicolantonio talks about the importance of a high salt diet for better health and athletic performance.

The interview is 53 minutes and starts with a discussion of how salt is critical to good health. Dr. Dinicolantonio goes deep into why consuming high doses of salt is essential to many functions in the body.

At the 22:47 mark, the interview turns its focus on salt loading before and during high intensity workouts in order to improve performance. We lose about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt per hour of exercise, but he says a soccer player can lose up to 6,000mg of salt per hour (or 2.6 tsp). CrossFit workouts probably fall closer to the side of a soccer player, especially if you are doing a longer workout in a hotter environment.

Because of this, Dr. Dinicolantonio recommends 1 teaspoon of salt per hour while working out. He takes 1 teaspoon approximately 20 minutes prior to his workout and then will take more every hour after that.

Why does taking salt before and during a workout improve performance? Dr. Dinicolantonio says, “The reason is salt is the best substance to increase blood circulation. And so, it dilates the arteries as well so it’s the best vasodilator.”

He continues by talking about research by Ancel Keys that was done back in the 1940s that showed when exercising in the heat a low salt diet your body temperature is higher. Those on a high salt diet are able to sweat more because of the vasodilation.

Dr. Dinicolantonio continues by calling salt the “sixth factor in fitness.” He adds, “it [salt] helps regulate body temperature. It helps cool you off. It reduces your heart rate so you can work out longer, faster, harder. It increases circulation so it reduces muscle cramping.”

As for overtraining, he says that it is many times a depletion of salt in your tissues. So for those who are constantly training and are not replacing their salt, the tissues are becoming depleted in salt and that is when you start getting cramping and muscle spasms.

The timing of this interview is great as we are just 17 days away from the CrossFit Games. We’ve seen numerous athletes from Rich Froning during the Triple 3 in 2014 to way too many to count during Murph in 2015 cramp up. Based on this interview and Dinicolantonio’s book, it might be worth giving salt loading a shot.

Check out the interview above and check out Dr. Dinicolantonio’s book, The Salt Fix.

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