Yes, runners need salt, but think twice before grabbing one of these.
When it comes to getting enough sodium in the diet, most people have nothing to worry about – we really like our salt. But runners need to make sure they’re getting enough. “If you’re too low, you run the risk of hyponatremia, which can lead to headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps, and it’s dangerous unless treated,” says coach Cheryl Scigousky.
“Runners need sodium to help stay hydrated. The amount of sodium you need is extremely variable. Heat, duration, along with sweat rate are a few factors involved in determining how much sodium is needed,” she says.
So, consider how much water you drink and the amount of sweat you produce – if you notice salty sweat or white spots on your clothing, and if you’re chugging water during your runs, you might need a little extra sodium before or during your workout. And, if you’re going for high-intensity or longer durations, such as an hour or more in the heat, grab a drink that contains sodium and electrolytes, she says. “Athletes vary in how ‘salty’ their sweat is, but it can range from just 30 mg a cup to up to 470 mg per cup,” says dietitian Maggie Moon, author of The MIND Diet.
Still, while getting enough salt is important, some foods you deem healthy are actually too high in sodium. Remember, balance is everything. Here are eight foods that are sneaky in the salt department.
Known as an immunity booster and cold remedy, there’s nothing wrong with a bowl of hot chicken soup. But many canned and store-bought varieties are incredibly high in sodium. “Chicken broth can have about 2700 mg sodium in it. A better alternative is a nutrient rich soup, such as lentil, split pea or tomato,” says Moon.
Or, get into the kitchen and make your own chicken soup, which allows you to reduce the amount of salt. “Homemade means you can control the sodium, but packaged soups are okay too, just check the label to make sure the sodium isn’t sky high,” she says, noting that 600mg or more is too high.
Cheese is high in calcium and protein to strengthen bone mass and repair muscles, so it’s a good staple to keep in the fridge. But not all cheeses are created equal. Many aged cheeses, while they taste incredible, are high in sodium, says Moon. For instance, “Parmesan has more than 500mg per ounce (28g) and Swiss has around 400mg per ounce (28g),” she says.
Swap aged cheese for fresh and other dairy sources. Try Greek yoghurt or fresh cheeses like mozzarella.
There’s no need to toss your go-to breakfast food, but you might want to be careful about portion control. “Surprisingly, cottage cheese often has more than 400 mg of sodium per serving. Again, there are some positive nutrients to consider, such as protein and calcium, so I wouldn’t take this out of my post-workout snack tray, but I might just use a dollop instead of a 1/2-cup serving,” says Moon.
Beans are great for your health (although limit in how much fibre you have before you hit the road), but the canned versions are high in salt. “Canned beans can easily run over 1000 mg of sodium per cup. But there’s a silver linin – all that sodium is added, which means you can find lower-sodium options on the market and it should be clearly labelled as well,” says Moon, who adds, that you should look for less than 480 mg per serving for a lower-salt option.
A quick Asian stir-fry or sushi roll can make for a healthy dinner, but don’t drench your veggies and rolls in soy sauce. “Soy has 300 to 500 mg of sodium per packet – that’s a doozy. But it’s flavourful, so a little goes a really long way,” says Moon.
Or opt for low-sodium versions at the store and when you’re dining out.
There are so many benefits to eating salmon, including improving heart and brain health. “Tinned salmon is wild caught, a great source of protein and omega 3, and easy to prepare,” says Cary Raffle, a certified personal trainer and certified orthopaedic exercise specialist. “But I’ve warned my clients that it is also incredibly high in sodium – 230 mg per quarter cup,” he says. It’s best to find a brand with no added salt.
Think twice before piling on that tomato sauce over a hearty bowl of pasta. “Tomato sauce can vary from 400 mg to 1400 mg per cup, and we also often use more than a cup,” says dietitian Bess Berger. “Try making homemade sauce. It is much easier than people anticipate and cuts down a tremendous amount of salt and sugar,” she suggests. (Check out this simple tomato sauce recipe.) And, always check labels in store to find lower-sodium versions if you’re pinched for time.
If you’re buying frozen over fresh, beware of added sodium. “Vegetables are important sources of many vitamins, minerals and cancer preventative phytonutrients, including potassium, fibre, folic acid, vitamins A and C. And they’re a great way to add nutritional value to soups, stews and stir fry, no matter the season,” says Suzanne Fisher, a dietitan.
But frozen veggies often come with sauces and seasoning that can contain 200 mg of sodium per serving. Instead, choose simply frozen vegetables and read all labels.