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If you’ve been keeping an eye on your sodium intake as a way to improve your health, you might be surprised to hear that adding salt pre-workout is actually beneficial for performance.
Now, is this just another example of “bro science” (a bodybuilding myth) or are there actually studies to back this up?
Yes, there are several studies documenting the benefits of supplementing with sodium pre-workout, such as improved hydration, increased endurance, and better muscular contractions. You can add salt to foods or drinks before a workout or use salt tablets. But, there are still health risks from chronically high salt intake.
I’ll cover the pros and cons when it comes to the science of salt, so that you can rest assured that you’re safely getting the most out of your workouts.
- Any kind of salt (table salt, sea salt, pink Himalayan salt) will work, but iodized salt should be considered if your diet does not have other sources of iodine, since iodine is important for thyroid health (a key gland involved in metabolism).
- The general recommendation is ¼ teaspoon of salt pre-workout. However, the amount of salt will depend on several factors including your age and body size, the type and duration of the workout, the temperature and humidity, and other sources of sodium for the day.
- For individuals who have sodium-related health concerns such as high blood pressure, it is best to speak with a doctor before introducing salt as a supplement.
Benefits Of Having Salt Before A Workout
Salt is an essential mineral that is important for maintaining the balance of electrolytes in the body.
Plus, salt can improve blood flow (for “pump”) and the rate of creatine uptake in muscles.
Electrolytes are minerals (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) that are dissolved in the body’s fluids (e.g. blood) and have a natural positive or negative electrical charge.
Your brain and nerves rely on electrical signals to get your muscles to contract, and without electrolytes, this wouldn’t be possible.
You lose salt when you sweat, so supplementing with sodium before your workout can help maintain electrolyte levels for longer.
As I explained above, sodium is a critical electrolyte to allow your muscles to contract.
If sodium levels drop too low, perhaps from lots of sweating, your muscles will no longer contract properly and you may experience muscle cramps.
Supplementing with sodium before your workout will improve muscular contractors and reduce the risk of muscle cramps, as long as you don’t use too much. Too much sodium can actually cause muscle cramps (I’ll discuss how much salt to consume below).
We’ve already seen that nerves need sodium and other electrolytes to get muscles to contract.
But it’s not just the muscles you use for lifting weights – skeletal muscles like biceps or quadriceps – the cardiac muscles that cause your heart to beat and the smooth muscles in your digestive organs also require optimal nerve function.
Your heart needs to be able to beat to keep up with the cardiorespiratory demands of your workout, and your digestive organs, while relatively quiet when you are in the middle of intense training, still have jobs to do to deliver fuel from the food you eat to your body.
Plus, nerves are involved in proprioception (your ability to orient yourself in space and to sense things around you), which is very important for balance and coordination and really matters when your workout involves movements like jumping, quickly changing directions or getting inverted like for handstand push-ups.
Supplement with sodium to support your nervous system for performance AND safety.
Adding sodium to the water that you drink helps pull more water into your cells, so that less water is lost by urine and sweating. This makes it easier to maintain or recover fluid balance – having the right amount of water both within and outside the cells of the body.
This is especially important for endurance athletes who exercise for 3-4 hours or more, or for people who train in high-heat/high-humidity conditions that cause them to sweat a lot.
Supplementing with sodium before endurance/high-heat exercise increases exercise capacity by maintaining fluid balance for longer.
- Related Article: Does Pre-Workout Make You Sweat More? (9 Reasons)
Just like other “vasodilator” ingredients in pre-workout supplements (such as nitrosigine and taurine), sodium can increase blood volume and blood flow.
Vasodilators are substances that help open up your blood vessels to improve blood flow to working muscles, supplying them with more oxygen to help them keep working.
More blood flow to working muscles means the ability to work harder, for longer, and supplementing with sodium can help with this.
- Related Article: Best Foods For Pre Workout Pump
Supplementing with sodium makes your blood saltier, which increases the rate at which substances are pulled into cells.
In this case, supplementing with both creatine and sodium pre-workout means that creatine will be more quickly absorbed into the body’s cells.
This means that supplementing with sodium can allow other pre-workout ingredients to take effect more quickly.
What Kind Of Salt Is Best Before A Workout?
There are several types of salt that can be used for pre-workout supplementation, including Himalayan pink salt, sea salt and table salt.
Himalayan pink salt and sea salt are generally considered to be more natural and more nutrient-dense than table salt, as they contain a variety of trace minerals in addition to sodium.
Table salt, on the other hand, is more heavily processed and may contain additives such as anti-caking agents (e.g. silicon dioxide or calcium silicate). Keep in mind, however, that these anti-caking agents are safe, and the processing does not impact the sodium in table salt.
Each type of salt has a slightly different sodium content, as well, but the differences are negligible.
|Type of salt||Sodium content in ¼ teaspoon|
|Table salt||590 mg|
|Coarse sea salt||580 mg|
|Kosher salt||480 mg|
|Pink Himalayan salt||420 mg|
Finally, the trace amounts of minerals found in pink Himalayan salt such as potassium, phosphorus and iron are just that: trace amounts, and in a quarter teaspoon serving, they are irrelevant, nutritionally speaking.
How Much Salt To Have Before A Workout
The amount of salt you should consume before a workout will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, weight, and activity level, type and duration of workout, the environmental conditions (heat/humidity), your overall sodium intake, and any health concerns.
In general, it’s recommended to consume about 500-700 mg of sodium (¼ tsp of salt) per hour of moderate exercise, with a maximum of 2000-3000 mg per day.
For people who have been advised to follow a low-sodium diet by their health care provider, the maximum daily amount might be only 1500 mg per day. If this is the case, please discuss salt supplementation with your doctor before making any changes.
It’s also possible that you could need more sodium, if you are engaging in intense or prolonged exercise, or if you are exercising in high-heat and/or high-humidity conditions that are making you sweat more than usual.
If you notice white, chalky marks on your clothing after exercising, especially around the neck and armpits, it’s a sign that you are losing a lot of sodium through your sweat.
You might also feel weak or dizzy, and have cravings for salty foods or drinks. This is a sign that you might need a bit more sodium before or during your workout.
Larger, more active people will also likely require more sodium than people who are smaller and/or less active.
Ways To Have Salt Before A Workout
There are several ways to include salt before your workout. You can have a salty meal or drink, drink salty water, take a salt tablet, or choose a pre-workout supplement with added electrolytes.
- If you normally eat a pre-workout meal, you can just add an extra pinch (⅛ – ¼ tsp) of salt to your food.
- If you don’t like the taste of salty water, you can have a high-sodium drink like V8 Vegetable Juice, which has 480 mg of sodium in ¾ cup.
- If you’re okay with salty water, you can add salt to your water bottle, making sure that you have 400-500mL for each ¼ tsp of salt.
- If you don’t want to worry about carrying measuring spoons, salt tablets are a convenient pre-measured option: each of these 1 gram tablets supplies 394 mg of sodium and you can just dissolve one in your water bottle (you’ll need to use more than the 120mL suggested on the label).
- If you take pre-workout supplements, consider looking for an option with added sodium. Jurassic Pump actually has 780 mg of sodium per 12g serving, so I’d recommend a half serving (6g) for 390 mg of sodium, to start.
Recipe For A Homemade Pre-Workout Drink With Salt
My favorite way to consume salt pre-workout is to mix up the following simple recipe. Make sure that you use a glass or metal water bottle and not a plastic water bottle or shaker cup, since the acid in the lemon juice can break down the plastic.
- 2 cups (500mL) of water
- ¼ tsp pink Himalayan salt
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Optional: 1-2 tbsp of liquid honey
- Fill a glass or metal water bottle with 2 cups of water.
- Measure in ¼ tsp salt and 1 tbsp lemon juice, and stir or shake to dissolve.
- If you want to add some quick-digesting carbs as pre-workout fuel, you can add 1-2 tbsp of honey, which provides 60-120 calories (15-30g of carbs) and, as a bonus, tastes delicious!
How Soon Before A Workout Should You Have Salt?
Just like regular pre-workout supplements, salt should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of working out. This will give your body time to absorb the salt and any other nutrients in your pre-workout, so that the benefits can be felt during your training.
For intense workouts lasting more than one hour, you may need to consume additional sources of salt or other electrolytes during your workout (intra-workout) to replenish sodium lost through sweat.
This can also happen if you are exercising in particularly hot or humid conditions, or any time you experience excessive sweating.
- Related Article: Pre Workout vs Intra Workout – Do You Need Both?
Should You Drink More Water When Adding Salt Pre-Workout?
Yes, you should drink more water when adding salt pre-workout. A quarter teaspoon of table salt has about 590 mg of sodium, which should be mixed with at least 400-500mL of water.
As far as your total daily water intake, it will depend on how much water you were drinking before, as well as your normal total daily sodium intake.
Even with adding salt pre-workout, you will likely still want to keep total daily sodium intake within 2,000 – 3,000 mg, unless you are an endurance athlete or otherwise highly active.
Our general recommendation for water intake is to take your body weight in pounds, divide by two, and aim to drink that many ounces of water each day.
For example, someone who is 180lbs would aim to drink 90 ounces of water each day.
But, you may need more or less water than this, depending on your individual circumstances.
If you feel thirsty, drink more. Ideally you will drink enough water so that your urine is very pale and nearly odorless. If your pee is dark or has a strong smell, you are not drinking enough. Be sure to check in with your doctor, too, to rule out any other medical causes for this.
- Related Article: Does Creatine Make You Thirsty? 6 Reasons Why
Potential Side Effects Of Too Much Salt Before A Workout
In the short-term, there are several unpleasant side effects of consuming too much salt before your workout. If you experience any of these symptoms below, speak to a medical proffesional immeditely.
Bloating is one of the most common short-term effects of having too much salt. That swelling and tightness in your belly can make you too uncomfortable to work out, especially if you were planning on heavy lifts that require the use of a weightlifting belt.
Consuming too much salt, especially with insufficient water, can pull a lot of water out of your body’s cells, signaling intense thirst to cue you to drink more water.
When water is pulled out of your body’s cells to dilute the salt levels in the bloodstream, you can also feel weak and dizzy. The sudden changes in blood volume will also trigger changes in your blood pressure, which can make you feel woozy while exercising.
Another side effect of too much salt is having an upset stomach. In extreme cases, you might experience vomiting, or you might just feel queasy. Either way, you won’t feel much like working out.
Beyond nausea, you might also experience stomach cramps or diarrhea when your system is overwhelmed with salt.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Pre-Workout Supplements Have Salt?
Yes, many pre-workout supplements have salt, either in the form of sodium or other minerals like potassium. More than half of the most popular pre-workout supplements contain at least some sodium, although the levels can be too low to be beneficial.
Is Salt By Itself Good For Pre-Workout?
No, salt all by itself is not a good choice for pre-workout. At a minimum, you need to mix it with at least 400-500mL of water, and ideally you will also have a pre-workout meal or snack with lean protein and quick-digesting carbohydrates to provide food sources of energy to fuel your workout.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.