Not salt, per se, but electrolytes. These are chemicals which are soluble in water and give it the ability to conduct electricity. Since your muscles and nerves work by receiving electrical impulses from the brain, you need a balance of electrolytes in order for water to conduct the impulses throughout your body. You lose electrolytes through sweat, so if you did not consume any while exercising a lot, you might go into cardiac arrest or neurologic shock.
Salt is made of sodium and cholride (NaCl), which are both electrolytes.
If you are exercising a lot and sweating, having salt packets near by is a great trick to help regulate your sodium levels. Typically, you are sweating out more salt that you intake through energy drinks or just plain water. Like whitefish said above, you may go into cardiac arrest or neurologic shock and can even go into hyponatrimea. Hyponatrimea is a condition caused by overhydration and low salt concentration in your blood. When we sweat our first instinct is to drink lots of water but the key is finding the right balance to make sure your body can actually process all the liquid during the hydration process.
Every person’s body is different, but I find that it is very important to listen to the body’s cravings when excercising intensely, particularly if I am sweating alot or spend prolonged periods of time in the sun. When I was riding a hundred miles a day on a bike, I found myself craving pretzles and oranges (the salt and the sugar) and after long hours of working in the sun but at a lower intensity, there is nothing more satisfying to me than a pickle. A bit strange, I know, but your body has pretty amazing feedback systems, if you pay attention to them.
Although too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and other problems, salt is essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. When people sweat, they not only lose water but salt from your body as well. Hyponatremia is the term for a low concentration of salt in the bloodstream, which many high-endurance athletes are at risk of incurring. This is because when people sweat, they tend to drink water to replenish themselves and stay hydrated. While this replaces the water lost to sweating, it doesn’t replace the salt lost. This can result in a very low ratio of sodium to water.
Doctors all seem to say that your salt and sweat levels are different for each person, and you should determine what is right for your body specifically. It doesn’t seem like many people need to worry about their sodium intake unless they are athletes performing for an extended amount of time (and sweating a lot for that amount of time). On average, it should not be that significant to your health, especially since our diets often consist of too much sodium anyways. If you are worried, energy drinks have been formulated to help with this specific situation.
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