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Sodium: A Double-Edged Sword for Bodybuilders

Sodium intake is often one of those considerations that people are always bringing up – not only for dieting and bodybuilding purposes, but even your average, uneducated individual that somehow believe eating sodium will lead to them gaining a ridiculous amount of water retention, bodyfat, or who knows what else goes through their mind. For dieting specifically, it is important not to over analyze the negative visual effects sodium intake has on the body. 

When dieting, increased sodium intake WILL cause more water retention, but this is not to say that this can’t be beneficial. I’ve told people that I’m 4, 5, 6+ weeks out and I’ve been asked multiple times if I’ve cut water or sodium yet. Cutting out sodium and fluids at this point sounds like a great way to put your body in a cycle of extreme fatigue, appearing flat all the time, and will generally halt your progress. After all, what you look like on stage is what’s important, so the short term effects of when you begin cutting sodium and water many weeks out are pointless.

More Sodium and Water = Less Water Retention?

In fact, during the earlier and mid-stages of preparation, it is often encouraged to INCREASE sodium intake to get your body used to the sodium. You will temporarily retain fluid due to an increase in the hormone aldosterone, but your body’s natural homeostasis will balance this ratio of sodium to water and very soon will be secreting the excessive sodium and water, further supressing this hormone.

Essentially, the trick is to keep HIGH SODIUM and HIGH WATER to keep these levels of aldosterone low. High levels of aldosterone causes an increase in vasopressin, and to make things short, your body will actually retain water as a defense mechanism. It makes sense, after all. As bodybuilders, we are constantly tricking our bodies into giving us the most unatural look possible.

leepriest-fatDo not confuse water retention with high body fat

You hear this all the time. “I was holding water”. If you wake up looking extremely dry and your skin is practically see-through, and then throughout the day you begin to fade and look smooth, then you could make this claim. If you are, on a day to day basis with multiple trials of high water intake, sodium, etc and you are constantly bloated, smooth, flat, etc, then you my friend are suffering simply from high BODYFAT retention. It is important to be as lean as possible far out from a competition to really be able to make adjustments to sodium intake and other variables.

The sodium pump


Have you ever eaten some pizza, or a burger and fries and noticed an extreme pump or an increase in vascularity? A good 70% or more of the water is stored intra-muscular. Loading with a high sodium, high carbohydrate meal will often create sodium-induced vasodilation, causing skin-splitting pumps. It is ideal to find out your body’s individual patterns and variables in regards to salt/water intake and try to mimic these variables to get the best result on stage. Last minute trials that have a small likeliness to make you look amazing and a high probability to make you look extremely off should be avoided.

As a rule of thumb, you should be lean enough, far enough out that you can do “mock meets”, or once every few weeks take notes and follow a specific sodium/water loading protocol, followed by carb depletion and carb loading, and generally see what gives you the best results consistently.

Remember, if you look 90% at your best when you follow a specific protocol, but you look this good EVERY time, as opposed to looking 100% at your best following another protocol that only works half the time, go for the first option. Looking extremely off after 16+ weeks of hard work with dieting, training, and other contest preparation struggles isn’t worth taking that chance.

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