Sodium is an important electrolyte our bodies need to manage fluid intake and losses, regulate heart function, including blood pressure and blood volume, and support healthy muscle and nerve function, Kabay tells Bicycling.
“Athletes lose sodium through sweating, especially if they have a really high sweat rate,” Kabay says, If you’ve finished a workout and your clothes are covered in white residue (salt!), that means you’re a salty sweater, Kabay says. In other words, you’re losing a lot of sodium through your sweat.
Some people, she says, may be heavy sweaters in all weather, but athletes need to be particularly careful in higher temperatures and more humid conditions. That’s why it’s so important to replenish your sodium levels after any workout and throughout the day.
How Much Sodium Do You Need?
This is a tricky question to answer, Kabay says, because the average person likely consumes too much salt in the average American diet. A diet high in salt can lead to health problems, including high blood pressure.
While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day (about one teaspoon), Americans eat an average of 3,400 mg per day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (If you have hypertension, or high blood pressure, experts recommend limiting daily consumption of sodium to just 1,300 mg.)
But, athletes aren’t average people, and unless otherwise instructed by a doctor, there isn’t reason for them to actively restrict sodium intake. In fact, Kabay says she might instruct her athletes to add salt to some of their snacks when necessary. For example, when you’re riding in the heat and humidity, you’re going to be losing more salt, Kabay says, especially if it’s a ride that lasts for 60 minutes or more. Shorter workouts that are more intense—think intervals—might also constitute the need for extra sodium, she says.
“You don’t need to go around and throw massive amounts of salt on every meal,” she says. “But postride, you might add a dash of salt to peanut-butter pretzels to start recovery.”
How to Determine Your Sweat Rate
In order to accurately figure out how much sodium you need after a workout, Kabay recommends calculating your sweat rate:
According to the Korey Stringer Institute, which focuses its research on performance in the heat, here’s how to do that:
- Weigh yourself unclothed before your ride.
- Exercise for one hour. (The type and intensity of exercise should be similar to what you normally do for a workout.)
- During the one hour workout, refrain from drinking fluids, as this will affect sweat rate.
- Afterward, weigh yourself unclothed again, and calculate the weight difference between pre and postexercise.
If you’re losing more than 2 percent of your body weight, Kabay says, you’re at risk of severe dehydration. That also means you’ll need to step up your sodium replenishment.
Generally speaking, Kabay explains that you might lose about 800 to 900 mg of sodium per liter of sweat, which means your post-workout snack should make up for that.
The good news is there is no shortage of healthy salty snacks that will satisfy your craving and help kick start recovery.
Kabay’s go-to post-workout snack is a smoothie because “you can customize them for whatever body needs.”
2. Trail Mix
Like smoothies, trail mix is easy and has limitless possibilities. “Trail mix is portable, which is great for recovery at a training or racing event,” Kabay says.
Most trail mix ingredients are, by nature, salty—think seeds and nuts. A serving of traditional trail mix contains roughly 60 mg of sodium, so if you’re not eating the whole bag, adding a little bit of salt can help replenish your losses.
Plus, the protein in nuts and seeds—4 grams per serving—is good for tired muscles.
Smear nut butter on your crackers for that perfect blend of carbs and protein. Crackers tend to be on the saltier side (yum!)—for example, Late July Classic Crackers have 140 mg of sodium per four crackers. If your favorite cracker is lower in sodium, add a dash of salt to your nut butter, Kabay recommends.
This popped whole grain (yes, popcorn is a whole grain) has the potential to provide quite a bit of nutrition, including carbohydrates, fat, protein, and carbs.
There are brands and flavors that contain minimal sodium, but if you’re an athlete looking for that extra bump, Kabay says you don’t really have to worry about choosing a salted flavor—140 mg to 250 mg per 3.5-cup serving, for example.
Made from boiled soybeans (and a popular Japanese appetizer), edamame is a plant-based protein powerhouse. Edamame also provides fiber and complex carbohydrates. When prepared traditionally—from a restaurant—edamame is topped with salt crystals, making it a great salty snack.
Preparing at home? Sprinkle your own sea salt to replenish your sodium stores.
6. Salted Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
A PB&J sandwich has the makings of a perfect recovery snack: carbohydrates, protein, fat. Add salt (or use a salted peanut butter), Kabay says, and you’ve got everything you need to replenish your stores.
A serving of salted peanut butter contains roughly 80 mg to 120 mg of sodium.
7. Hummus Veggie Sandwich
While turkey sandwiches are notorious for their sodium levels (390 mg to 590 mg depending on the type of deli meat), you can still start to replenish your lost electrolytes with a protein-packed hummus veggie sandwich.
A serving of hummus contains about 60 mg of sodium per serving. If you find that’s not enough, smear hummus on your turkey sandwich.
Veggies provide important complex carbs and antioxidants to help boost recovery, making them a nutritious addition to any sandwich.
8. Cottage Cheese
Perhaps one of the most nutritious dairy foods, cottage cheese is high in protein, fat, and sodium—330 mg per serving.
Flavored cottage cheese is high in added sugar, which generally should be kept to 10 percent of your total calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That said, endurance athletes often need the extra simple sugars to fuel their muscles.
Cottage cheese mixes well with fresh fruit, for added nutrition, Kabay says.