Mineral Salts: What they are and their functions

Mineral salts are considered “non-energetic nutrients”, or essential elements for our body that don’t provide energy or calories. Minerals salts can be found in food and need to be integrated with a daily nutrition that in order to be healthy has to be varied and complete in a way that guarantees the correct intake of this enormous class of nutrients. A monotonous diet surely lacks integration: every food distinguishes itself for its caloric content, energetic nutrient composition (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and also in non-energetic nutrients such as mineral salts. 

Sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and iron are the most important minerals for our body and their consumption should be balanced, and due to the important functions that they carry out, the damage from both excess and defect is known.

For some minerals the state of excess is much more probable compared to that of defect: that’s the case of sodium-chlorine compared to magnesium-potassium, two binomials that regulate the state of intra and extra-cellular hydration.

Sodium-Chlorine

The binomial sodium-chlorine is consumed, as a main source, through the ingestion of salt. In fact, what we commonly call “kitchen salt” is a chemical composition made of Na-Cl, sodium and chlorine. From the moment that every food naturally contains salt and considering the abuse that the western and industrialized diet does to this ingredient which makes foods more savory and tasty, it’s very rare to have a deficiency, while the damages from abuse such as hypertension, water retention and bone loss are much more common.

To avoid consuming too much salt, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of your diet. You don’t have to eliminate all added salt, but it’s important that most of your nutrition is composed of fresh and low processed foods, limiting packaged foods and aged cheeses. Help comes also from food industries that, informed about health risks and encouraged by entities such as the WHO, are keeping a distance from the overuse of salt as a way of making products more appetizing by offering the same products but with a “reduced salt content” or “no salt added” that should be chosen over traditional recipes.

The perception of the taste of salt can be changed: if we get used to eating mostly foods with a low salt content, your taste will soon adjust and you’ll taste the flavor of food even more so. Try it to believe it!

Magnesium and Potassium: Even More Important in the Sports Environment

Magnesium and potassium are indispensable both alone and as binomials and even more so in a sports environment where sweating generates a massive loss of liquids.

In normal conditions, potassium, chemically indicated as K, is 98% found in the intracellular zone while sodium and chlorine, NaCl, is found mainly in the extracellular zone. This balance is fundamental for the biological process called “membrane potential” and is the base of cellular function (or life function), and if it’s disturbed and not restored, the consequences can be quite detrimental.

Sweat is almost entirely composed of NaCl, with small traces of other minerals, and when its expulsion is strong it creates a loss of intercellular potassium in order to try to restore homeostasis. 

The role of intracellular potassium is that of fulfilling cellular growth and protein synthesis, which is why it’s found in muscle cells, is proportional to the lean mass of the individual and an excessive loss of intercellular potassium can result in protein catabolism.

While sweating, the passage of potassium from the inside to the outside of the cell provokes serious side effects to the muscle system such as fatigue, cramps, and fibromyalgia but could provoke more symptoms that are more alarming such as arrhythmias, tachycardia, irritability, constipation or digestive problems and/or even mood disorders.

Potassium is also involved in the conversion of sugar into glycogen. When equilibrium is compromised, this conversion slows and fat is stored rather than glycogen, resulting not only in an increase in fat mass but also of glycogen depletion in the muscles, therefore, a greater tendency to result in fatigue, protein catabolism and a loss of stamina of the athlete.

Mineral Salts: What they are and their functions

Guidelines maintain that the average daily requirement of potassium is 3 g and in addition to staying hydrated with at least 2 L of water a day, it’s important to consume potassium through your nutrition with foods rich in this mineral such as: beans, lentils, parsley, sardines, spinach, bresaola, artichokes, bananas, mackerel, whole wheat flour, tuna, zucchini, etc. 

Regarding magnesium, chemically indicated as Mg, 50% of this is found in soft tissues (muscle, connective tissue, blood or lymphatic vessels, nerves, ligaments and fatty tissue) and the rest in the bone tissue while only 2% is present at the extracellular level. It’s a fundamental mineral salt because it’s involved in important neuromuscular aspects and contributes to the equilibrium of sodium-potassium, favoring the vitality of the cells and their efficiency,

The lack of magnesium, which can happen due to a poor intestinal absorption, diarrhea, excessive sweating, use of diuretics, alcohol, antibiotics or contraceptives, is very common and is associated with the following symptoms: fatigue, weakness, tremors, mental confusion, irritability, insomnia, cardiac disturbances, nerve conduction disorders and muscle contraction, cramps and low stress tolerance. Magnesium is fundamental in sports performance, both aerobic and anaerobic. Recent studies have shown that an increase in magnesium consumption could be linked to the lowering of blood pressure, kidney stones, certain mood disorders, premenstrual syndrome and many other pathologies, and in addition to being involved in muscular motility, an increase in magnesium favors muscle contractility. In other words, muscles respond better to physical force and result less fatigued – just like recovery appears to be facilitated since magnesium contributes to the relaxation and contraction of the muscles. 

The daily requirement of magnesium according to LARN is between 150 and 500 mg/die that can be consumed through whole-wheat cereals, legumes and dried fruit.

Sport Mineral Salt Supplements

Considering that the body is made of 60% water, the average adult needs at least 2 L of water a day that have to be provided 80% from liquid water and the other 20% from foods like fruit and vegetables, that are mostly made of water, sugars and mineral salts. In the case of athletes or those who actively practice sports or those who tend to sweat a lot, the amount of water that you need could increase by up to 6 times the recommended amount and in the case of intense sweating without correctly hydrating, the problem of dehydration is right around the corner.

When you feel thirsty this means that your body is already dehydrated and the first signs of dehydration like cramps, fatigue and headache could already be present. In order to avoid this state and the sense of sickness that it brings, it’s best to drink well and regularly throughout the day, consume 5 portions of fruit and vegetables and integrate with tea, even mineralizing, that make drinking more appetizing and give a pleasant feeling of relax both psychologically and physically

For those who practice sports it’s practically fundamental to use salt mineral supplements, especially with a magnesium and sodium base that, as we’ve seen, have a fundamental role in muscular and sports performance, and are the most involved in the loss that occurs during sweating. The simplest way to reintegrate these salts is to consume supplements especially during and after training but that can also be consumed in various moments throughout the day, like the morning to get going with a boost or at lunch when a decrease in energy tends to occur after noon, or, like in the case of magnesium, at night to favor proper sleep and relaxation and, therefore, recover better.

Mineral Salts: What they are and their functions

Bibliography

  • A. M. El-Sharkawy, O. Sahota, and D. N. Lobo, “Acute and chronic effects of hydration status on health,” doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv038.
  • B. M. Popkin, K. E. D’Anci, and I. H. Rosenberg, “Water, hydration, and health,” Nutrition Reviews, vol. 68, no. 8. Blackwell Publishing Inc., pp. 439-458, 2010, doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x.
  • Battistini, N. C., & Poli, M. L’ACQUA NELLO SPORTIVO. PARTE 1-ACQUA ED ORGANISMO UMANO Pag. 04, 71.
  • Boschiero, D., & Converso, L. Magnesio e Potassio: Ratio K/Mg.
  • https://www.crea.gov.it/web/alimenti-e-nutrizione
  • Jitsu, T. R. J., & Dilettantistica, A. S. ALIMENTAZIONE per lo SPORTIVO.
  • LARN

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