No matter if you’re an athletic super star or just beginning your journey towards getting healthier, there’s a dietary mineral that needs to be in proper balance in order for your body to function efficiently.

Potassium is critical for several functions in your body. It’s involved in muscle contraction, regulating your heartbeat,  proper functioning of your nervous system and can even be helpful in maintaining and regulating your blood pressure.

Consuming too much sodium in your diet and too little potassium is thought to be a risk factor for high blood pressure.  Having enough potassium in your body can also decrease risk of kidney stones as well as decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
 coconutwater

If you’re working out hard and sweating potassium can be depleted more rapidly in your body. Another risk factor for having low potassium can be if you are taking diuretic medications, or any medications which may increase the amount of urine that is released from your body. Finally, if you or your child is ill for example, if anyone is experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, there can be potassium deficiencies that can occur. It is always best to consult immediately with a health care professional if you think you or someone you know is having a problem with low potassium levels or to call 911  or go to the emergency room if the problem is severe as potassium issues can in some cases be life threatening.

As temperatures outside begin to rise with the changing of the seasons, more people are likely to be outdoors exercising. If you’re new to working out, or even just exercising strenuously in the heat, you may experience increased sweating and thus be at risk for low potassium levels.

Did you ever wonder why in almost all of  the outdoor races you’ll see boxes of bananas and bottles of water at the finish line for the runners? The reason is simple: water is important to help rehydrate the runners and the bananas provide much needed potassium which together will help electrolyte levels after the race.

Think of potassium as holding the key towards allowing fluid to flow in and out of your body’s cells. Sodium is generally found outside of the cells whereas the potassium is normally found on the inside.  If everything is working in your body as it should sodium is always wanting to get into the cells at the same time as potassium is competing to get out.

After exercise such as what you’d see with a race—the athletes crossing the finish line are generally ending up with an excess of potassium that is outside the cells, instead of inside where it normally is. When not enough potassium is inside the cells it  can cause your muscles to cramp or you may feel nausea or have vomiting. You may have weakness, numbness or tingling or feel bloated. Heart palpitations may also occur due to low potassium levels, or you may even faint.

After a race, runners who consume the bananas and water are generally able to resolve their electrolyte issues within an hour.

Potassium may affect different parts of the body including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urinary, muscular and nervous system.

Note: Having too much potassium in your body can be just as dangerous as not having enough. Potassium levels can be measured through a blood test that your health care provider can order. It is always a good idea to get a physical and blood tests run, as well as the ok from your personal physician or health care provider before embarking on any exercise program. And talk with your care provider about diet, exercise, and potassium before adding or changing anything in your diet.

If you’ve already consulted your health care professional and find you need to add in some potassium to your diet after strenuous exercise you may find that having one of coconut water drinks on hand may help you easily replenish your potassium.

What Foods Are High in Potassium?

Food Size Potassium (Mg)
Papayas 1 papaya 781
Lima Beans 1 cup 955 mg
Plantains 1 medium 893 mg
Jerusalem Artichokes 1 cup 644 mg
Bananas 1 422 mg
Oat Bran 1 cup 532 mg
Tomatoes 1 cup 528 mg
Cucumber 1 large 422 mg
Cantaloupe 1 cup 427 mg
Pears 1 pear 333 mg
Mangoes 1 323 mg

 

The other tip I received from a friend who runs marathons is that she packs a drink into her gym bag and when training hard, has a coconut water drink 1/2 of the drink about an hour before she trains, and 1/2 of the drink after she’s finished her workout. There are different brands of the coconut water drinks but the one I just tried yesterday seemed to help my muscles feel less tight and have less of a tendency to cramp, especially towards the end of my workout.

The drink I tried was called VitaCoco (with pineapple) and was a coconut water (pure coconut) that can be found in most health food stores these days and even in some grocery stores. The drink not only has potassium, but other important electrolytes that are depleted during exercise including magnesium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.

For those of you who need to watch gluten, this brand is gluten free.  I just ordered a case of it on Amazon as I have free shipping, so it is easier for me to have it on hand than trying to find it in my local area because it’s always sold out.  It is better tasting when it is refrigerated, although it does not have to be refrigerated for storage. This particular brand had 70 calories, so it is not calorie free, but at less calories than a banana, and perhaps even easier to digest, it may be a useful adjunct to add to your training regimen if you find you have a need to increase potassium levels either before or after your workout with something that is easily transported.

If you try this drink please let me know what you think and how it affected your workout.