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The Power of Potassium!

Posted Jun 24 2011 9:55pm
Bananas are a staple in most runners' training diets. They're a great quick source of nutrient dense carbs and they're a great source of potassium. Potassium is one of the 5 key electrolytes (potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride). As we sweat, we deplete the levels of electrolytes in our bodies and it's vitally important to replace them while we run as well as after we run.

While most Americans tend to ingest about 1000mg more sodium than recommended each day, we fall short in our potassium intake. Sodium plays a key role in hydration and potassium helps keep muscles from cramping. Potassium also helps regulate heart functions, helps to reduce blood pressure, and plays a role in converting glucose into glycogen (your fuel for running). The muscle cramps I mentioned early are usually a result of the lack of potassium for the glucose conversion to take place. The muscles simple run out of gas. Potassium also plays a role in eliminating carbon dioxide from the lungs (another key function for runners). If you're running more than 45 minutes (especially if it's hot and humid) you need to make sure and drink a sports drink containing electrolytes or add electrolyte tablets to plain water in order to keep from depleting your electrolytes to dangerously low levels.

It's also important not to just replace what you've sweated out on a run, but it's good to include potassium in your everyday diet. Adults need about 4,000mg of potassium each day. You'll need more if you're exercising and sweating heavily. No, that doesn't mean you have to eat bananas at every meal. There are lots of other foods to choose from that are rich sources of potassium.
Here's just a few..
Raisins                                   1 cup              1089mg
Baked Potato                         1 medium       1081mg
Lima Beans                           1 cup                 955mg
Winter Squash                      1 cup                 896mg
Dried Prunes                         1 cup                 828mg
Raw Bananas                       1 cup                594mg
Plain Yogurt                          8 oz                   579mg
Tomato Juice                         1 cup                 535mg
Cooked Beets                        1 cup                 519mg
Baked Sweet Potato w/skin   1 potato            508mg
Cooked Brussels sprouts       1 cup                  504mg
Orange Juice                         1 cup                  496mg
Cantaloupe                            1 cup                  494mg
Skim Milk                             1 cup                  407mg
Dried Apricots                    10 halves              407mg
Strawberries                          1 cup                  240mg
Pears                                      1 whole pear      208mg
Dry Roasted Peanuts             1 oz                    187mg

Hypokalemia is a metabolic disorder that occurs when you have lower than the needed amount of potassium in the blood. There are lots of things that can cause low levels of potassium. One is simply not eating enough potassium-rich foods, but some medications (especially diuretics) can effect the levels as well as having diarrhea, eating disorders like bulimia, diseases such as Cushing Syndrome, eating large amounts of licorice, and sweating. It's the last one (sweating) that runners have to be cognisant of. A small dip in your potassium level isn't going to cause you to experience the symptoms of hypokalemia (abnormal heart rhythm, decomposition of muscle fibers, fatigue, muscle weakness, constipation, paralysis) but a large enough dip certainly can. If you're not getting the needed potassium in your everyday diet and then you're sweating profusely on your runs, you may be putting yourself at risk.

Recently a Johns Hopkins study showed low levels of serum potassium might be a potential diabetes risk factor and that low levels of potassium might be a factor in why African-Americans (who tend to have lower levels of potassium) are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than whites. Black or white, upping your potassium intake may very well help decrease your chances of developing diabetes.

So do yourself a favor, grab a handful of raisins and take advantage of the Power of Potassium!
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