Salt : bad for most people, good for some athletes
Got curious about basic sodium needs
Your body needs only 500 mg of sodium per day to function under normal circumstances. Endurance athletes need more and should consume fluids that contain sodium if they are exercising for two hours or more.
How much sodium do athletes need?
Studies have shown that ultra-endurance athletes can lose 1-2 grams of salt per liter of sweat.
athletes may lose up to a liter (or more) of sweat each hour
Here’s another source
In some endurance athletes, measured sweat losses have exceeded 1.8 liter per hour and range from 0.5 to 2.5 liters per hour.Research measured results have ranged from 230 to 1380 milligrams per liter or even higher.
You can certainly become depleted in one ironman (8-10 hours), and have low sodium despite eating a lot of salt on a regular basis.
Hyponatremia means a low concentration of sodium in the blood. When it occurs in triathletes, it usually happens during long or ultra-distance races in the heat but may occur anytime. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the finishers of the Hawaii Ironman are both hyponatremic and dehydrated
So how much sodium would an athlete or avid exerciser need? Assume someone works out 1 hour per day. That works out to 500 + 0.5 * 230 = 615 mg of sodium for some athletes and 500 + 2.5 * 1380 = 3950 mg of sodium for some athletes.
It’s a reasonable assumption that cavemen exercised at least an hour a day, getting food etc., so where did they get their sodium? Chicken breast and most fish have about 50-75mg of sodium per 100g serving. Salads have about 75mg per 100 gram serving. In short it’s hard to eat a lot of sodium naturally. One potentially better alternative might be swiss chard, which is relatively easy to buy, and has 200mg of sodium per 100g serving, and can be cooked for easier digestion. The obvious conclusion is that cavemen probably ate a lot of vegetables. Research suggests they ate 10-20 servings per day of fruits and vegetables.
If you don’t eat a lot of vegetables and you are an athlete your health alternatives are not that palatable. You could drink milk which has some health problems of its own.
One option might be to buy seaweed. Wakame seaweed, for example, has nearly 1 gram of sodium per 100 g serving. I found this source which lists nutritional information for certified organic seaweed that you can buy. I was thinking about mercury in sea vegetables. One linked study I saw showed about 0.004 to 0.04 PPM. This is about the same amount you’d find in a lot of fish, making it a bit less desirable to eat daily.
You could just slather salt on your food. One hazard of that is that sodium is likely not the only thing that gets depleted in exercise, but other things aren’t really that depleted, so it’s probably ok to add salt. Salt licks occur naturally - wild animals have access to them. Some cave men also lived near the sea and could likely get some salt that way. In short salt may well have been available to cave men as well. So if you’re going to add salt, what type of salt should you add? Sea salt is out because of mercury etc., as is industrial salt, because of chemical impurities. You could buy mined salt that hasn’t been processed. The risk when you ingest a lot of sodium is that you tend to flush out other minerals via urine, so extra vegetables is likely the best bet, followed by good, mined, non-processed salt.
As someone who prefers natural solutions, I would prefer that athletes eat more vegetables, but that isn’t always an option for some - simply because it’s hard to eat for some athletes to eat that many vegetables because they require calorically dense foods. The best solution as I see it is to reduce salt conception and increase vegetable consumption as much as possible, and supplement only if needed.