Poor salt, it gets such a bad rap when it comes to health. It seems crazy to me that there is such a fear of salt, it is an essential nutrient for life. Before canning and refrigeration, salt was the primary method of preserving food.
Roman soldiers received payment in salt. In the past, it was a compliment to be worth one's weight in salt. It isn't so much of compliment anymore. The American Heart Association and the Government's MyPlate have low recommendations for salt consumption. They recommend that we keep our salt consumption less than 2,300 milligrams a day. The recommendation is about one teaspoon a day. The average American gets about 3,400 milligrams per day.
What happened? Salt was so prized in the past n the past. In 1904 the the Journal of Experimental Medicine published the first paper that showed salt effected blood pressure. There were some ambitious reports over the next 40 years. Lewis Dahl bred some genetically altered mice. The mice were more susceptible to hypertension. He showed that giving the altered mice a large amount of salt would induced a deadly increase in blood pressure. What is absent in the study is the amount of salt given. The mice received a comparative dose of about 100 times what an actual human would eat. Most of us know, about anything in excess can kill us. Drink enough water and you can die of hyponatremia.
The American Journal of Hypertension did a seven study meta-analysis. The study found no evidence that cutting salt reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or death of people with normal or high blood pressure. The British Medical Journal found that long term modest salt reduction reduces blood pressure. The British Medical Journal then concludes that it is beneficial for heart disease.
Reviewing the studies, my conclusion is hypertension is a complicated disease. Salt is not the sole factor in regards to someone keeling over. A study in the American Journal of Medicine showed that higher sodium intake the less likely they were to die of a heart attack. The mere fact of lowering your salt consumption doesn't appear to save you from a heart attack. It also appears that adding salt doesn't kill you.
What I find interesting about all these studies, from what I can tell, there wasn't any mention of the diet the test subjects were eating. I know from personal experience that salt is necessary for a ketogenic diet. The work of Dr. Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney that salt and minerals are critical while following a ketogenic diet. Low salt and minerals in a ketogenic diet makes a person light headed and lethargic.
When is a salt bad for you? I think the jury is still out on salt. The studies are suspect due to the lack of dietary information in regards to the studies. When is it good for you and necessary? When following a ketogenic diet, upping your salt and minerals is a necessity.
There seems to be a buzz in the endurance community, which is best, fat adaptation or the popular high carb, low fat approach. Which is best? For me, the answer is pretty clear. I followed the low fat, high carb approach for years and only became fatter, slower and injured. That makes for a good feedback loop to let me know what I had been doing wasn't working. After years of research and learning from experts like Ben Greenfield, Chris Kresser, Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek. At Ben Greenfield's Superhuman conference I met Peter Defty who has developed the Optimized Fat Metabolism program designed to walk athletes through the process of becoming fat adapted. My husband shared an article with me the 4 Reasons Why You Should NOT Try the Ketogenic Diet. I have had such had such great results with a ketogenic diet and I have have experienced none of the negative side effects that were mentioned. I figured I would write the 4 Reasons Why You Should Try A Ketogenic Diet. I am grateful every day that I switched my diet, my quality of life has improved tremendously! Since switching to a ketogenic diet I have lost 26 pounds, and my endurance, times, muscle mass and digestion have all improved.
1. Nutritional Ketosis aka Using your fat for fuel: Nutritional ketosis is the process where your body turns fat into ketone bodies. I like using the giant battery around my waist for fuel and I am pleased that battery is shrinking. I could go into the long process of what nutritional ketosis is, but thankfully Dr. Peter Attia has already done that for me. Check out his post on all the details. I have heard that there is some concern that you might melt your organs if you use ketones for fuel. I think some folks are confusing ketosis with ketoacidosis. There is a BIG difference between the two. Nutritional Ketosis is healthy, ketoacidosis is deadly.
2. Digestion Improves: A well formulated ketogenic diet usually includes broth and fermented vegetables. Both are great in healing the gut. I like the work by Natosha Campbell-McBride's GAPs Diet for healing the gut. Before I switched to the ketogenic diet, I had terrible digestive problems. I am regular like clockwork now, happy, happy, joy, joy!
3. Faster Recovery: Most athletes know, the sooner they recover from exercise the better quality their training session will be. I have noticed that I am able to recover much faster than I did when I followed the high carb approach. High carbs are by definition, high sugar. Adding a bunch of sugar to the system creates a bunch of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress causes all kinds of damage in the body. Since training also causes damage in muscle tissue, there are competing resources to repair tissue. I personally prefer that my body is busy repairing muscle tissue to make me stronger instead of taking care of the damage caused from excess sugar in my system. If you have the time, check out Dr. Lustig's talk on the damage from sugar.
4. Bonk Proof: Most endurance athletes, if they have been in the sport long enough, have heard the term Bonk, or hitting the wall. That scary state when the body runs out of glycogen stores and stops performing. Basically, you become a jellyfish and unable move. A carbohydrate dependant athlete is limited to the glycogen stored in their liver and muscles. Once they burn through that, they bonk and have to wait until their body is able to recover to go on. Even the leanest fat adapted athlete has thousands of calories to burn in the form of fat. I have gone for five hour bike rides with only 2 Vespa, salt and water. I felt fine and even got some PR's on some segments in Strava. It is a good feeling not having to worry about getting a gel in every couple of hours or my stomach shutting down because of the sugar in my system.
If your current diet is working for you, great! I am happy for you. If your find yourself struggling to get faster, stronger and leaner, I hope my experience has helped you see some of the benefits that I have experienced becoming a fat adapted athlete. Some better known fat adapted athlete are cyclist Rubain Bardet the Frenchman who won as stage in the last Tour de France, 12 hour ultra marathon world record holder Zach Bitter, and ultrarunning superstar Nikki Kimball. Meredith Loring and Sami Inkinen just broke a record rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii on a fat adapted diet. The movie Running on Fat chronicles Meredith and Sami's journey plus highlights other fat adapted athletes. Please feel free to leave comments or ask me questions about my journey to become a fat adapted athlete.