You’ve likely been told your whole life to avoid or minimize sodium. I personally couldn’t care less what government agencies say about nutrition (i.e. the FDA, NIH, NHA, AHA, ADA, ACSM, etc). Historically, they’ve all been wrong, an alarming percentage of the time.
We’re about to talk about salt, but, before we continue, please don’t ever say “I could care less”. It’s an ambiguous statement that tells us nothing, other than that you care, on some level. If you care greatly about something, you certainly could care less. If you care a little bit about something, you could still care less. If you don’t care about something at all, you couldn’t care less. Figure it out. I’m already getting salty.
Edit: after I wrote this, and was about to publish, I saw an article pop up on my Bleacher Report feed with my boy Brooks Koepka falling victim to this egregious mistake. I really love Brooks, phenomenal golfer, and he’s jacked, which I love, so…come on buddy, you’re better than this.
Ok, I’m done venting, now let's talk about salt...
We’ve all been told to restrict sodium intake, because, apparently, it contributes to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, hot dog fingers, fat ankles, etc. Current research on sodium tells us that not only is it not bad, but low intake is likely problematic, and the ceiling is quite a bit higher than we’ve been told.
If you didn’t read the links, basically sodium gets a bad rap. However, there is a caveat here. The thing is, when your diet is largely comprised of carbs, well, then a high carb intake + high sodium intake is dumb. Carbohydrates contribute to water and sodium retention. People reading my site are likely not on a high carb diet, the point is that a high sodium intake can be problematic, if bad choices come first.
Instead of being given the useful advice of restricting carbs, we’re told to restrict sodium (same concept applies to dietary fat, and a bunch of other things that could all be fixed by just restricting carbs).
When you do restrict carbs, particularly to the point of nutritional ketosis, your kidneys up-regulate sodium excretion in a big way. Your body starts dumping sodium. Guess what turns out to be one of the best fixes for high blood pressure? Ke-fucking-tosis. Not prescription drugs. Not sodium restriction.
Once you’re in nutritional ketosis (confirmed by a finger-stick test), keeping your sodium intake up is crucial. Whenever I hear a client tell me they’re feeling a bit foggy, or dragging in the gym, (or a lesser recognized issue, their digestion is off), my first question is about sodium intake. About 70% of the time, just adding sodium quickly fixes the problem.
Let me reiterate, first verify your ketones. I prefer the Keto-Mojo meter (that is a discount link if you want to pick one up), it’s what I use and have all my clients use. At a bare minimum you need to be at 0.5. If you’re below that, we need to get your ketones up first, and that’s a different topic. You can’t just pile sodium on top of a low ketone number. Ketones high and you don't feel great? Read on.
From my experience coaching a wide variety of shapes and sizes and activity levels into ketosis for over a decade, there is a range of optimal sodium intake which will likely fall between 4,000mg-8,000mg/day. The smaller you are, the less you exercise, the lower ketone range you hang out in (0.5-1.0), the less you probably need (closer to the 4,000mg range, maybe even lower). The bigger you are, the more you exercise, the higher the ketone range you hang out in (1.5-4.0), the more you probably need (closer to the 8,000mg range, maybe even higher).
Start by logging your food (myfitnesspal isn’t perfect, but the free version is good enough, it’s what I have my clients use). Logging will give you a basic idea of how much sodium you’re getting from your food. If you’re eating a bag of pork rinds every day (which is an awesome idea), along with some delicious salted pili nuts, a few ounces of liverwurst, and 4-6 strips of bacon, well then you’re already doing pretty well. But you might be surprised at how little you’re getting if you’re not eating sodium laden foods. So figure out what you’re getting from food, then add enough (through the methods I will discuss next) to get in that 4,000mg ballpark for starters. If you feel great, stop there. If not, bump it up by 500mg at a time until you find your sweet spot.
Methods and Timing of Sodium Supplementation
1: Table salt
The simple/cheap method is just straight table salt. You get 590mg in ¼ teaspoon. Measure out ¼ - ½ teaspoon, toss it in some water and chug it. What about pink Himalayan Sea Salt you say? That’s some unnecessary nonsense. The tiny amount of trace minerals you get, coupled with the energical vibrations from the magical monks that harvested it won’t make a bit of difference.
2: Sodium Chloride Tabs
If you don’t love the taste of chugging a glass of salty water, and you love swallowing pills, no judgement here. Same dosage applies.
3: Rapunzel Bouillon Cubes
These things make a delicious drink. Cut a cube in half, drop it in a coffee mug with some water, microwave it, drink it like a tea. And don’t you dare grab some garbage bouillon cubes from the grocery store, they’re all filled with hydrogenated oils, aka, trans fatty acids.
4: Morton’s Lite Salt
This is a combo of sodium and potassium. You can’t really buy potassium in useful amounts as a supplement, because it’s what’s in a lethal injection, and if you OD on it, you’ll stop your heart. If sodium isn’t doing the trick on its own (usually it does, because your body starts dumping potassium only after sodium is depleted, in order to protect your heart), then you can try a sodium/potassium combo like this. But I'd recommend talking to a professional first. Or eat ½ an avocado every day and count it as part of your carb intake. Don’t eat bananas. Bananas are for morons. Also don’t take more than ½ tsp of this at a time.
My clients typically dose sodium supplementation either first thing in the morning, or pre-workout (if those are different times). Pre-workout is a great idea, but if you aren’t currently on a workout program (rethink that), or it’s an off day, then just consider doing it with your morning routine. If you’re not getting much sodium from food that day, consider doing it again in the afternoon.
Word of caution, you’ll likely want to avoid ever going over 1,000mg of sodium at one time. Some people can get away with much more than that, but it’s rare, and unnecessary. Signs of acute sodium overload are things like nausea, headache, elevated blood pressure, feeling your heart beat in your forehead, etc. That just means you took way more than your body could handle at once. Which I just told you not to do. Keep it between 500-1000mg per dose and you should be fine. With any supplement/nutrient, always start small and try to find the lowest effective dose.
Also, if you take exogenous ketone salts like KetoCaNa, remember that it has a bunch of sodium in it. DO NOT add sodium when taking a ketone salt supplement.
Finally, if you’re on blood pressure medication, or really, any medication, don't play with sodium intake without discussing with your doctor. If you’re not on a low carb, ketogenic, or carnivore diet, you don't necessarily need to increase your sodium intake, but keep in mind that overly restricting it is likely unhealthy based on the most current research.