Your body has three main electrolytes responsible for the flow of electromagnetic energy: potassium, sodium, and chloride. Potassium is the most important. It is called a cation because it carries a positive electrical charge. Potassium interacts with the other main cation, sodium, and the anion chloride (negatively charged) to enable your nerves to conduct the electrochemical impulses that make you a living being. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that electrolytes sodium, potassium, and chloride are also necessary in an effective sports drink. The addition of electrolytes not only helps replace what’s lost due to sweating but also encourages continued fluid consumption because of the salt, which stimulates thirst.
Potassium’s role in the body
Potassium and sodium perform a balancing act throughout the body. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium on blood pressure, helping to keep blood pressure low. The interchange and flow of potassium and sodium in and out of cells are responsible for the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Potassium is one of the intracellular electrolytes that is critical for fluid balance in the body, especially during exercise. Furthermore, potassium is responsible for balancing pH in the body between acidity and alkalinity, regulating proper digestion processes, upholding accurate heart rate, and therefore, preventing stroke and heart disease.
Fruits and vegetables are the richest sources of potassium, with potatoes, spinach, and bananas at the top of the list. Meat, milk, coffee, and tea are also significant sources. In general, the best food sources of potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables, and certain dairy products and fish. Food processing tends to remove potassium and add sodium, thereby contributing to the imbalanced intake of these two minerals. Even if potassium is not removed from a food or beverage, the addition of sodium disrupts the ratio of sodium to potassium, leading to potential health and performance complications.
Ideal scenario: High potassium/low sodium diet
All creatures including humans evolved on a high potassium/low sodium diet, because that was the proportion of these minerals, naturally occurring in our ancient environment. So the ideal amount of potassium in your diet should reflect the amount in the foods of our ancient environment. The same foods today, freshly harvested, and unprocessed, are still high in potassium and low in sodium. Even the flesh of sea fish such as salmon and tuna, though they live in an environment with twenty times more sodium than potassium, contain five times more potassium than sodium. Overall, the fresh foods that form a good diet, contain seven times more potassium than sodium. Seven to one is the ratio of Nature’s design upon which your body functions best.
Today’s problematic scenario: High sodium/low potassium diet
In one of the many crimes against human health in the 20th century, food processors reversed this ratio by adding salt to everything. Canned tuna today contains 3-4 times more sodium than potassium. Wholewheat breads contain 5-6 times more sodium than potassium. Overall, the average American diet now contains twice as much sodium as potassium. If you want optimal performance, don’t eat it!
High-fat levels in diet block potassium absorption
The average daily potassium intake in America is about 2.5 grams, much below the recommended amount of 3.5 grams. A lot of that deficient amount of potassium is promptly excreted because high-fat levels in the average diet block potassium absorption. Some misguided physicians and dieticians scream bloody murder against potassium supplements which might bring the total intake up another gram or so. They seem unaware that folk who eat large amounts of vegetables and fruits get 8-11 grams of potassium per day — and the US National Academy of Sciences reports they are a lot healthier for it.
The body can’t store excessive potassium
On Nature’s time scale, humanity is still very much a work in progress. We may not reach evolutionary maturity for another couple of million years. One problem still to be worked out by natural selection is the human body’s inability to hold onto sufficient potassium. Unlike most other minerals, we leak potassium like a sieve. Even with insufficient potassium and no exercise, your body cannot conserve this mineral. So unless you base your diet on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day, you are likely to be short on both potassium and performance. In healthy people with normal kidney function, high dietary potassium intakes do not pose a health risk because the kidneys eliminate excess amounts in the urine.
Potassium For Athletes
We know that athletes need more potassium than sedentary folk because one effect of athletic training is a big increase in the potassium content of muscle. Due to its role in muscle function, several studies have been conducted looking at the relationship between potassium and exercise performance.
Because of potassium use during exercise, and loss of additional potassium in sweat, urine, and hemolysis (bursting of red blood cells), athletes are also in greater danger of potassium deficit than sedentary folk. And the idiotic use of laxatives and diuretics by some athletes trying to “make weight”, dumps body potassium faster than spit – a sure way to guarantee potassium deficiency.
Prolonged exhaustive exercise has been shown to impair potassium transport processes in exercising muscles. This impairment can lead to a rise in extracellular potassium concentration in the skeletal muscle, which is thought to play an important role in the development of fatigue during intense exercise. Some distance runners have collapsed from potassium deficit. Studies report that low potassium intake is common in wrestlers, gymnasts, track and field athletes, dancers, swimmers, and football players. Clearly, they don’t eat enough veggies. Potassium status is commonly measured using serum potassium, with 4.5-5.5 mcg/l taken as an acceptable range. It doesn’t mean a lot for athletes, because potassium in the blood changes dramatically with exercise, and with the level of carbohydrates in the diet.
The Colgan Institute uses daily supplements of 500 – 2000 mg of potassium as potassium bicarbonate with athletes. But mostly we advise at least two meals of a wide variety of vegetables every day, to provide 5-10 grams of potassium. Toxicity – nil. The lowest level at which potassium is reported toxic in an adult is 18 grams per day.
Minerals are inorganic nutrients that are absorbed into plants from the earth’s surface and then make their way into our bodies when we eat those plants or eat animals that have eaten plants. The most important minerals for muscle building are calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Also of special value for all active persons are the electrolyte minerals magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride.
Potassium is necessary for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, and glycogen formation. It also aids in maintaining cardiovascular system function. During workouts, potassium helps calcium do its job of stimulating muscle contractions. While it is calcium that actually stimulates the contraction, it cannot do so without the aid of potassium. Excessive potassium loss can cause muscles to contract involuntarily, resulting in painful cramps that can stop you in your tracks. In addition, potassium losses can lead to heat intolerance.
Good food sources of potassium are bananas, tomatoes, oranges, potatoes, winter squash, avocados, and beans. The recommended daily intake for athletes is 2,500-4,000 mg.
FAQs about potassium
Hypokalemia, or low blood potassium, is caused by frequent vomiting, diarrhea, and use of diuretics, as well as low potassium intake. Athletes with high sweat losses are also at risk for potassium deficiency, which may result in muscle cramps. Common symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness and loss of appetite. A rapid change in potassium status or long-term low potassium levels can lead to heart arrhythmias.
In healthy individuals, the kidneys will excrete excess potassium, and therefore no upper limit has been set for potassium. However, in those with impaired kidney function, a high intake of potassium (combined with low excretion) can lead to hyperkalemia. High potassium levels in the blood over time can lead to a slowing and eventual stopping of the heart.
Below you will find the normal levels of potassium required by the body on a daily basis:
- Pregnant and Breastfeeding women - 4700 - 5100 mg
- Infants below 6 months of age - 400 mg
- Children between 7-12 months - 700 mg
- Toddlers: 3000 mg
- Children between 3 - 8 years of age - 3800 mg
- Children between 9-13 years of age - 4500 mg
- Teenagers both boys and girls - 4700 mg
- Adults - 4700 mg
Green beans, cucumber, cauliflower, grapes, lettuce leaves, raw onion, blueberries, cabbage, radish, mushroom, pineapple, eggplant.
Yes, they are. Potassium and sodium have an inverse relationship. As sodium goes up, potassium levels decrease, and vice versa, Therefore, the more potassium you eat, the more sodium you process out of the body.
Excessive intake of potassium can cause hyperkalemia but usually in the setting of impaired renal function. Normally, your kidneys filter it out of your blood and get rid of it when you pee.
In alkali metals, on moving down the group, the atomic size increases, and the effective nuclear charge decreases. Because of these factors, the outermost electron in potassium can be lost easily as compared to sodium. Hence, potassium is more reactive than sodium.