Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mmm, Potassium

by: Yishane Lee

This crucial mineral helps keep you hydrated and aids in recovery. Here's how to get it:

Even Freud would concede that a runner who finishes a marathon with bananas on the brain is not thinking impure thoughts. There's a simple, physiological reason for the water-and-bananas combo that's become a staple in almost every postrace recovery tent: Water hydrates and bananas supply potassium.

Potassium is a mineral that works with sodium (also a mineral) to balance the fluids and electrolyte levels in your body. And since steady fluid levels help to regulate your heartbeat and prevent muscles from cramping, potassium is of particular importance to runners. "Think of it as the gatekeeper for fluid movement in and out of the body's cells," says Lisa Dorfman, R.D., a sports nutritionist at the University of Miami's athletic department. Most of the sodium in your body is stored outside your cells, while most of the potassium is stored within. Yet because of their different concentration levels, potassium constantly wants to get out and sodium wants to get in. The transfer of these two crucial minerals in and out of the cells--the "sodium-potassium pump"--comprises 20 to 40 percent of an adult's resting energy expenditure.

Put that adult in motion, running, and studies have shown that he or she will finish a marathon with more potassium outside his or her cells than inside. That's why you feel weak, your legs might start to cramp, and you may begin to feel bloated. But thanks in part to that unoriginal (albeit useful) banana and water foisted upon you at the finish line, the imbalance returns to normal in about an hour.

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