International guidelines suggest limiting sodium intake to 86–100 mmol/day, but average intake exceeds 150 mmol/day. Participants in physical activities are, however, advised to increase sodium intake before, during and after exercise to ensure euhydration, replace sodium lost in sweat, speed rehydration and maintain performance. A similar range of health benefits is attributable to exercise and to reduction in sodium intake, including reductions in blood pressure (BP) and the increase of BP with age, reduced risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, and reduced risk of osteoporosis and dementia. Sweat typically contains 40–60 mmol/L of sodium, leading to approximately 20–90 mmol of sodium lost in one exercise session with sweat rates of 0.5–1.5 L/h. Reductions in sodium intake of 20–90 mmol/day have been associated with substantial health benefits. Homeostatic systems reduce sweat sodium as low as 3–10 mmol/L to prevent excessive sodium loss. “Salty sweaters” may be individuals with high sodium intake who perpetuate their “salty sweat” condition by continual replacement of sodium excreted in sweat. Studies of prolonged high intensity exercise in hot environments suggest that sodium supplementation is not necessary to prevent hyponatremia during exercise lasting up to 6 hr. We examine the novel hypothesis that sodium excreted in sweat during physical activity offsets a significant fraction of excess dietary sodium, and hence may contribute part of the health benefits of exercise. Replacing sodium lost in sweat during exercise may improve physical performance, but may attenuate the long-term health benefits of exercise.
Turner is with the Dept. of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia, and the University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa. Avolio is with the Dept. of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia.