Nutrition Corner: A Look At Salt Intake and Sports Performance


A Look At Salt Intake and Sports Performance

The latest installment of Swimming World’s monthly look at nutrition by Dawn Weatherwax focuses on sodium intake.


Table salt (sodium chloride) is a combination of two minerals: sodium and chloride. The body needs it to function. Without it, you would die. It aids in building and recovering muscles, impacts blood pressure, aids in staying hydrated and helps prevent muscle cramps during activity.


When you sweat, you lose from 200-2,000 mg of sodium per pound of sweat. No other electrolyte is lost in that amount. Potassium rarely exceeds 70 mg per pound of sweat, and calcium and magnesium losses are way less than that. (I know this firsthand because I test electrolyte levels at my office.)


Most athletes need a minimum of 3,000 mg of sodium a day. Many need more pending on how much they sweat per hour. This amount can easily be met through daily consumption, but I have found many who focus on eating clean do not intake enough. I highly recommend logging on an app to see what your average intake is. (Remember: This is an educational article and not to be replaced for medical advice. Seek out individual help in these situations.)


If activity is light, less than 90 minutes and you don’t lose more than a pound of sweat per hour, drinking water is usually fine. Others who lose over 2-3 pounds of sweat an hour should aim for 200-500 mg of sodium citrate per hour. (Again, this is a recommendation and NOT an absolute. I have had athletes who need 1,000 mg of sodium an hour based on the results we received from testing.)


If you cannot get enough sodium through your daily food consumption or if you sweat profusely during activity, then an athlete might consider supplementing with electrolyte products focusing on sodium as its primary source. NUUN, Precision Hydration, Salt Stick, The Right Stuff and LMNT are options. For others, if you need carbohydrates during activity, then a sports drink might be a better option to get both simultaneously.


Muscle cramping during activity is usually caused from lack of water and/or sodium! The goal is to weigh before and after activity, and weigh the same. The weight lost at this time is only water. Next, if you are hydrating properly and still cramping, do not add more water. Water dilutes sodium levels in the body.

So, now you need to add proper sodium amounts during the day and during activity. To scientifically measure hydration status, get hydration strips. Measure your specific gravity levels between dinner and bedtime. They should be between 1.000-1.005. To know how much sodium you are losing per pound of sweat, you will need to seek an expert to help.


Sodium is an essential mineral and electrolyte, especially for active people and athletes. Remember: If you swim only, you do sweat in the water. Aim for a minimum of 3,000 mg of sodium a day—and more is likely needed, depending on several factors. If you do cramp up during an activity, start focusing on fluid and sodium guidelines. I highly recommend seeking out a sports dietitian or medical professional if the muscle cramping persists.

* * *

This article and the following sample training menu is educational only and should not be used in place of medical advice:


Pre-Training (4:30-5:15 a.m.)
1/3 cup Chia seeds
3/4 cup Unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup Blackberries
1.5 T Honey
1 tsp Vanilla
16 oz Water an hour (amount needed depends on sweat rate)
(Might add 1 tablet Nuun or Precision Hydration electrolyte tablet per 16 oz)

Training (5:30-6:45 a.m.)
4-16 oz Water or sports drink an hour (amount needed depends on sweat rate)

Breakfast (6-7:30 a.m.)

MUST HAVE WITHIN 30-45 minutes after training
Tofu Bowl (To save time, you can make it ahead of time and heat up)
Sauté in a skillet:
1 T Olive oil
1 Chopped garlic clove
1 cup Kale

Put the rest in the skillet and mix until warm:
4 oz Tofu
1/4 cup Kidney beans/pinto beans
Seasonings: soy sauce, turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper

Put mixture on top of:
1 cup Brown rice (pre-cooked)
Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, salt and pepper (optional)

2 Mandarin oranges
16 oz Water (electrolyte product if needed)

1 Multivitamin and mineral tablet
1 Vegan Omega-3 capsule high in DHA and EPA
1 B12 capsule

Lunch (11 a.m.-12:45 p.m.)

1 Baked sweet potato
1 T Olive oil butter
2-4 cups Greens
1 cup Mixed veggies of choice
1-2 T Oil-based dressing
1 cup Edamame
1 Daiya’s Greek Alternative Yogurt
1 cup Berries
16 oz Water (optional: add one NUUN electrolyte tablet)

Afternoon Snack (2-3:30 p.m.)

1 No Cow Bar
Trail Mix
1/8-1/4 cup Mixed nuts/seeds
1/8-1/4 cup Dried fruit
16 oz Water (optional: add one NUUN electrolyte tablet)

Training (3:30-5:30 p.m.)

4-16 oz Water or sports drink an hour (amount needed depends on sweat rate)

Post-recovery within 30-45 min: 10-20 oz soy milk or Garden of Life performance bar

(If you can have dinner within that time, then this snack is optional)

Evening Meal (6-7 p.m.)

Bean and Avocado Wrap
1-2 Organic tortillas
3/4 cup Black beans
3/4 cup Red peppers
3/4 cup Purple cabbage
1 Avocado
Season with salt, pepper, chili powder—optional
1/2-1 Grapefruit

16 oz Water (optional: add one NUUN electrolyte tablet)

1 Multivitamin and mineral tablet
1 Omega-3 capsule high in DHA and EPA

Evening Snack (8-10 p.m.)

12 oz Almond milk
1 scoop Garden of Life protein powder
1 small Banana
1-2 T Nut or seed butter

Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a registered/licensed dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition and founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has been working with swimmers for over 25 years and has launched an online nutrition program for swimmers at She is also a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, which is the premier professional sports nutrition credential in the United States. In addition, she is an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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