The Role of Potassium in Athletic Performance

November 18, 2022

Much has been said about the importance of potassium for athletes and the positive effects it has on exercise and performance, but do you want to find out what role potassium plays and why it is so important to add it to your diet? We will explain that in this article. 


What is the role of potassium in the body?


Potassium is an essential mineral for your body and belongs to the electrolyte family, just like sodium or chlorine. Do not be frightened by the term, it is very simple: we call electrolyte any substance that can dissociate into ions through water and is also a conductor of electricity.


Although sodium, chlorine, and potassium belong to the same family, there is one main difference: potassium is found in the cells, and the other two minerals remain outside. In fact, potassium is the most abundant positively charged ion (cation) inside the cell, and sodium is the most abundant cation outside the cell.


So what is the function of potassium, and why is it so important?


Basically, this mineral regulates the activity of the muscles and nerves and ends up being eliminated through the kidneys. But it does not have a single function. In general, the functions of potassium in the organism are the following:


  • Transmission of nerve impulses

  • It improves heart rate and blood pressure

  • It is in charge of regulating the liquids and mineral salts of the body

  • It is essential for the storage of carbohydrates and their subsequent transformation into energy

  • It participates in the functioning of muscles and their growth

  • It helps to stop hair loss and to eliminate toxic substances from the body


And why is it fundamental for athletic performance?


When a person runs, for example, they lose electrolytes. This loss occurs through sweating, and sodium and potassium are the most affected minerals. The latter, in particular, is responsible for the movement of fluids and nutrients that allow muscle contractions.


By this, we mean that if your body does not have enough potassium, your muscles will not be able to generate nerve impulses controlling those muscle contractions.


In general, it is necessary to consume 3.5 g of potassium per day, and certain foods are beneficial for runners and athletes. 


Potassium for cramps


The so-called sodium-potassium pump is a function of the body based on the expectation of sodium to enter the cell and potassium to leave the cell, which is closely related to sporting activity.


And the fact is that after a marathon or intensive training, most of the potassium goes out of the cells, and that is the main reason runners experience fatigue, weakness, and cramps after a competition.


So how will you perceive all this? Well, it's easy, a lack of potassium in the body can be detected by the appearance of the dreaded cramps.


And how to remedy them? Well, by ingesting foods rich in potassium and magnesium. Some of the most popular foods with potassium are listed at the end of the article. However, keep in mind that achieving a balance is essential, and neither the lack of potassium is good, nor the excess.


How to take potassium: foods rich in potassium


A banana before running or a banana after running


The banana is a very popular potassium-rich food in the world of sports that can not miss in your diet.


It doesn't matter when you have a banana, whether you want to eat one before and one after your training! Although we have to say it: it is normal to eat bananas after working out, which is when you have lost a large amount of potassium through sweating during training.


Other foods with potassium


Some of the foods rich in potassium that you should consider incorporating into your diet and your sporting life are:


  • Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, and beans

  • Dried yeast

  • Nuts

  • Coffee

  • Oranges and other citrus fruits

  • Dates and raisins.

  • Parsley

  • Melon, watermelon, and apples.

  • Mushrooms and dried mushrooms

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • The meat of any kind

  • Oily fish


Some curiosities about potassium


It is important that you know certain things about potassium before following the above indications. Many factors can alter the levels of potassium in the body:


  • People with hypoglycemia can retain water and lose potassium.

  • People with diabetes should control their potassium intake and follow the indications of the medical specialist. The same applies to people with kidney disease.

  • People taking medication for hypertension may only take potassium supplements under medical supervision since they must be taken together with sodium and zinc.

  • If you feel a strong desire to eat sweets, it may mean a low potassium level.

  • If you consume coffee and you are an athlete you will probably notice less fatigue after your workouts but be careful because your lack of potassium may be disguised by the consumption of coffee.

Do not take potassium supplements without first consulting a doctor.


So, will you start worrying more about the vitamins and minerals you take to improve your athletic performance?