Why do I need it?

The balance between electrolytes is greatly important for our health. It can affect the amount of water in our system, the acidity of your blood, our muscles ability to contract and the communication between our nerve cells. We are talking the ability to regulate a heartbeat and, to have full command of skeletal muscle. In the world of electrolytes, it is often sodium the one making headlines. Nonetheless, potassium merits equal amounts of attention. As a matter of fact the balance between sodium and potassium, or the unbalance I must say, is more responsible for high blood pressures than is sodium alone, which is what many of us have been told. The body will do it’s best to stay afloat, even if, say, you where to chow down on salty foods all day. It does have tightly controlled regulatory mechanisms in place. Insulin for instance, although not the only hormone to do so, has this regulatory ability. Sadly, if you do not have good insulin sensitivity, which is likely if you’re eating processed foods, then maintaining normal blood pressures and proper fluid balance becomes even more difficult. 

Can it help me train better?

Cells are in a constant exchange of fluids, and nutrients, with their surrounding environment, in what turns out to be a quite delicate trade. The tiniest shift in concentrations of sodium and potassium can allow water and nutrients, such as proteins and carbohydrates, entry in to muscle cells. Thinking of taking advantage of this nifty anabolic response? Read all about the sodium/potassium pump here. Word on the street is that potassium, or a lack thereof, is behind muscle cramps, especially exercise induced muscle cramps. This theory certainly fits the mould. The problem is, science has yet to undercover if, in fact, it is lack of potassium or an electrolyte imbalance overall that actually causes muscle cramps. For the time being don’t become a victim of cramps – have a read of ‘Muscle Cramp – what is it & how to avoid them’.

Where to get it?

Most fruits vegetables are the best sources of potassium. Leafy greens, vine fruit, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes with their skin. 

Am I deficient? 

Hypokalaemia, full blown potassium deficiency, is really quite uncommon. About 85% of all the potassium we consume in our diet is absorbed.

Yet to discard the possibility of marginal deficiencies would be naïve. A standard diet full with processed food is likely to be loaded with salt, increasing our need for potassium. We know for certain that salt sensitivity varies with ethnicity. African Americans, for example, are on the more sensitive side.

Although only a minute amount of potassium is lost through sweat, athletes, especially while exercising in hot weather, should also be mindful.

Pregnant woman might find their high blood pressures augment their potassium needs. Patients with high blood pressures are often prescribed diuretics, which increase their excretion of potassium. 

Should I supplement? 

Even those that are extremely salt sensitive or are at risk of marginal deficiencies can get what they need from food, and they can consume it quite easily. Being sufficient in potassium can be done in two steps. 

  1. Lower your salt intake
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables:
    • One papaya – 781 mg
    • One medium mango – 323 mg
    • One small banana – 422 mg
    • One sliced tomato 400 mg
    • One medium baked potato with the skin – 986 mg
    • One medium avocado – 344 mg 

Is there risk for toxicity?

Over the counter brands and multivitamins contain very little potassium, 100 mg approximately since the risk of toxicity is very high. Having toxic levels of potassium can cause a condition called Hyperkalaemia which, as you can imagine, can cause anything from fatigue to cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal beating of the heart) and ultimately cardiac arrest. You do not loose significant amounts of potassium in your sweat. Supplementing heavily with the mineral with the intent of preventing muscle cramps is NOT a good idea. 

Daily Allowance: 4.6 g/day 

Source: Dr Paul Cribb – Metabolic Precision