By Kevin Kolodziejski
You may want to absolutely crush it, or you may hope to simply survive it. But what you certainly don’t want during a demanding ride is to cramp up. That can occur, however, because in just one hour of rigorous riding, particularly in hot and humid conditions, you can sweat out enough sodium (up to 2,000 milligrams) that your calves and quads twitch.
Yet you only need to replace a fraction of what you’ve lost (between 400 to 700 mg) to keep that from happening — as well as forestall fatigue. So when you’re on the bike, really pushing it, and hydrating with a carb-based electrolyte drink, the element in it symbolized chemically as Na is your ally.
At other times, though, Na is your enemy.
From Ally to Enemy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of people in the U.S. ingest too much sodium, 3,400 mg per day on average. That’s 1,100 mg more than the American Heart Association recommends, and 1,900 mg more than what the AHA calls the “ideal limit.” But because of the way most of us eat today, it’s really easy to reach the ideal limit in a single lunch.
Two slices of pepperoni pizza and a salad with dressing and croutons will do the trick. And so will the seemingly pretty-good-for-you combo of a bowl of vegetable soup and a turkey sandwich.
Ingest too much sodium for too long, and you’ll probably develop high blood pressure — something you’d probably like to avoid considering nearly 500,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are attributed to it. And it also increases your odds of being one of the nearly 800,000 Americans every year who suffer a stroke.
Mice Gain Weight From Too Much Sodium
While it’s quite likely you already know much of what you just read, I’ll wager you’re not as aware of another health concern can be linked to ingesting too much sodium: weight gain. Not the temporary two-or-three-day water weight gain that comes from breaking a strict diet with a cheat day, but the type of long-term weight gain that leads to metabolic syndrome and obesity.
In March 2018, for example, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that found feeding a high-salt diet to mice caused hyperphagia — the medical term to indicate an abnormal increase in eating. While the hyperphagia didn’t seem to adversely affect the mice at first, after a few months the mice experienced “progressive weight gain and metabolic syndrome developed.” Equally as important, these researchers figured out what helped cause both: “endogenous fructose production.”
In reaction to the high-salt diet, the mice’s own livers were producing fructose. The researchers confirmed this by feeding the same high-salt diet to specially bred mice that cannot make or process fructose and by finding weight gain and metabolic syndrome did not occur.
(Just to be clear here: Table salt and sodium are not the same, though the terms are often used interchangeably. I’ve used whichever one is used in the study or by the source. Table salt is sodium chloride, a crystal-like compound abundant in nature while the mineral sodium is one of the chemical elements found in salt.)
In a review of the PNAS study published three weeks later in Nature Review Nephrology, lead researcher Miguel Lanaspa, DVM, PhD, and professor at Oregon Health and Science University, states that their research shows salt, “despite the fact that in fact it does not provide any calories, can in fact stimulate appetite.” It seems to do so, he believes, by elevating leptin levels to such a degree that leptin resistance results. And with that, the link between high-salt ingestion and obesity comes full circle.
The Problem With Leptin Resistance
According to the Cleveland Clinic, leptin resistance causes your body to go into starvation mode, which adversely affects your brain function, decreases your overall energy level, and causes you to use fewer calories at rest. Moreover, since it creates hunger while decreasing metabolism, fat storage is likely to occur.
A subsequent paper published in the July 2019 issue of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care reaffirms what Lanaspa and colleagues found and also cites fructose consumption as a “key player” in metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the catch-all diagnosis you receive from your doctor if you have three or more of these problems: too much belly fat, too much “bad” cholesterol or too little “good” cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. If left untreated, metabolic syndrome can lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Now you need to seriously consider all the aforementioned information since there’s a really good chance you ingest too much sodium, primarily because food producers really upon it so heavily. So much so that 70 percent of the sodium the average American ingests comes from restaurant, prepackaged, and processed foods, including many foods that do not taste salty. Like breads, wraps, rolls, bagels, milk, veggie burgers, chicken breasts, crab, sausage, and even diet soda.
The Simple Solution
The way to keep too much sodium from turning into too much weight is simple, albeit time-consuming. Make more of your meals on the stove at home. Get fewer of them from opening the microwave door, driving to convenience stores, and eating at fast-food and fine-dining restaurants.
Your use of the salt shaker to add taste to home-cooked meals is not the problem. A study of 450 American adults published in the May 2107 issue of Circulation, found only 10 percent of the sodium in their diet came from the foods prepared at home and only 5 percent of that was added to the foods and not naturally present in them.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.
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