Yes, young athletes should be concerned about their salt intake and where the salt is coming from. It is easy for anyone, including young athletes, to unknowingly eat too much salt. And too much salt is bad for your health.
A High Sodium Diet Can Lead to High Blood Pressure.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 1 in 6 children between the ages of 8 and 17 has raised blood pressure. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents and teens who consume too much salt, show unhealthy changes to blood vessels that may put youth on a path to cardiovascular disease.
Of course, there are times during long periods of exercise, especially in hot weather when young athletes may need to replenish their bodies with sodium. Still, most athletes are getting more than enough salt in their diets.
Daily Sodium Intake Out Of Control
The FDA recommends a daily sodium intake of less than 2300 mg per day, yet most Americans consume over 3400 mg per day. Young athletes may feel like they are eating healthy, yet they may not be aware of the high sodium level in some of the foods they are eating. Studies show that 70% of a person’s dietary sodium comes from packaged and prepared foods, not the salt added to food when eating or cooking.
Recently the FDA announced that they want to help manage the public’s salt intake by asking the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels in over 150 categories of the most consumed processed, packaged and prepared foods. Unfortunately, this is voluntary and unregulated, so young athletes and parents should make sure to read labels and check for sodium. Salt is seen on nutrition labels as salt, sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium citrate, sodium alginate, and sodium phosphate.
Foods High In Salt
Some of the highest in salt foods are breads, pizza, sandwiches, deli meats, soups, burritos and tacos, chicken, cheese, and savory snacks like chips, popcorn, and crackers. When eating fast foods and processed foods throughout the day, a person’s daily salt intake can quickly get out of control.
Eat Healthy Food and Drink Water
The bottom line is, eat fresh, healthy foods and cut out processed foods. Eat out less and cook at home more. And though salt is important during hard workouts, it can be replenished as needed, so try not to eat much throughout the day.
Water, Water, Water and Then Salt
First, athletes must get hydrated before their activity. They should drink water throughout the day, as well as after their workouts. If an athlete exercises for less than an hour, water is usually the best option for rehydration. If they are working out for more than an hour, especially in hot weather or if they will be going right back to practice or competition, then salt (and electrolyte) supplementation is a good idea.
Replenish Sodium When Needed
Sodium is important and helps maintain fluid balance in the body. Athletes who exercise upward of an hour a day, or several times a day, and sweat a lot may need to replace salt and other electrolytes to stay hydrated. If an athlete loses a lot of electrolytes during a workout, they can feel bad and even experience muscle cramping. It’s important to stay properly hydrated and replenish electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium) when needed.
Athletes should be wary of sports drinks because many are loaded with sugar. Healthier options to help replenish salt and other electrolytes include Essentia Water, Propel Immune Support with Vitamin C + Zinc, NOOMA Organic Electrolyte Sports Drink and Pedialyte Unflavored Electrolyte Solution and more. There are many tablets and powders to try, like Nuun Sport Electrolyte Hydration Tablets or Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder. The key is to check the label to get electrolytes with little or no sugar added. And of course, there is always the option of making your own electrolyte drink.
Although athletes may need to replenish sodium after hard workouts, most can stand to reduce their overall salt intake.
How To Reduce Salt Intake
Eat Healthy Foods
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains,fresh meat, poultry, and seafood and other lean proteins, healthy fats, dairy, and beans/legumes.
Cut Out Processed Foods
Processed foods have high sodium content. Grab a carrot for a snack as opposed to chips or pretzels.
Avoid Eating Out
Skip fast food and cut back on restaurant food. And when you do eat out, ask for nutritional information to make the healthiest choice.
Stay away from package foods, but when you do buy them, check the sodium content. Look at the fresh meat and poultry label to see if saltwater or saline has been added. And don’t forget to check your condiments.
Don’t Add salt
Set down your saltshaker and try a no-salt seasoning blend or herbs and spices to add flavor to your food.
On those extra hard workouts, athletes should hydrate and replenish sodium as needed, but it should be a top priority to reduce salt in their daily diet. Reducing sodium intake by cutting out processed foods, eating out less and cooking at home more, can help young athletes perform at their best and learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.