Athletes are always looking for an edge when it comes to improving their performance. Various vitamins and supplements have been used for years, with some being more effective than others.
One idea that has gained popularity amongst endurance athletes is the consumption of salt pills before a performance. By taking them before strenuous physical activity, these competitors are attempting to replace the salt in their body that they lose through sweating.
Sweating is an important process for the human body because it helps control its internal temperature. This is a process called thermoregulation. Many have theorized that consuming these supplements would allow athletes to sweat more, which would optimize their thermoregulation. Increased thermoregulation directly correlates with better performance amongst athletes.
But scientists aren't so sure. A recent study conducted by Saint Louis University shows that salt pill consumption has a negligible effect on performance for endurance athletes.
Edward Weiss, who is a professor of nutrition and dietetics, had athletes participate in a double-blind study to test the effectiveness of salt supplements on thermoregulation. He divided the athletes into two groups and had them participate in strenuous physical activity. One group was given a salt supplement while the other was given a placebo.
The experiment measured sweat rate, dehydration, skin temperature, and other body functions associated with thermoregulation. After completing the tests, Weiss and his team found that the salt pills did not increase thermoregulation in the bodies of the athletes in any meaningful way.
In fact, Weiss cautioned that taking salt supplements could be detrimental to the overall health of athletes. It is already known that consuming too much salt can be detrimental to the human body, and these salt pills increase the body’s salt level by drastic amounts.
"While moderate sodium consumption is perfectly reasonable and should be encouraged, high sodium intake is associated with health concerns, like hypertension," Weiss said. "I recommend that athletes use caution with sodium supplementation, especially when daily intakes already exceeds the upper safe limit of 2300 mg/day for most Americans."