Matt Brundage

Sodium and sports drinks

I recently got a message out of the blue from a woman who felt compelled to respond to a report that I had written in 2000 for a college health class assignment. Her message below has been lightly edited for clarity:

I have a friend who must work outdoors no matter how hot or humid. Last night, we were discussing that maybe he should drink more Gatorade, etc. (This worked for my ex-husband so well: I could tell by looking at him if he had drunk[1] water or Gatorade when it was hot. With water, he had that exhausted look; with Gatorade, his skin looked good and he had lower exhaustion.) The problem is that my friend has high blood pressure, so I worry if he might get too much salt from the sports drinks. Could you suggest something he might buy or make to help himself? He was really feeling poor last night. I feel bad for him. Budget is an issue for him as well, so, it couldn’t be anything too expensive. Thank you so much! Look forward to an answer.

The 110mg of sodium in a serving of Gatorade is there for two reasons:

  1. to replenish the sodium lost naturally when you sweat;
  2. it gives the body that “thirsty” feeling, which then encourages you to drink more, thus maintaining proper hydration.

Keep in mind that your friend’s high blood pressure may not necessarily be the result of salt sensitivity. While there is indeed a correlation between the two, it’s not quite as strong as conventional wisdom would have us believe. Other factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are obesity, renin homeostasis, insulin resistance, genetics, and age. Obesity is perhaps the most prominent contributing factor.

When I exercise (jogging, weight lifting, volleyball), I usually just drink water. My workouts usually don’t last long enough to warrant the consumption of sports drinks…

If your friend is worried about being exhausted after strenuous work, but wants to limit sodium, I would suggest tomato juice. It has half the calories of your average fruit juice, but still has enough calories to keep your blood glucose levels up. (Incidentally, tomato juice has about half the sugars of Gatorade.) It’s overflowing with potassium, with over 25% RDA per serving. Campbell’s even has a low sodium variety, which I drink on a regular basis. Ounce for ounce, it’s a healthier, natural alternative to Gatorade.

I’ve also found that bananas are good before or after exercise. They’re easy to digest, contain loads of potassium, and are a healthy source of energy.

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