Water Retention and Bloating

It happens to everyone.  There are so many myths out there about sodium that a blog post on this topic is long overdue.  I’ve seen coaches who limit sodium to no end to those who suggest ignoring the amounts entirely.  I personally fall somewhere in between.  I’m going to tell you a story of why you need sodium, and why I should have used my better nursing judgement to make the appropriate- and safe- decision. So lets talk about water retention and bloating…

Story Time

For multiple years, as most of you know from reading my story in this blog, I approached contest prep eating “clean” and doing all things old school.  This meant lots of chicken, tilapia, broccoli, asparagus, brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, swai, 99 percent lean ground turkey, nut butter, and avocado- that’s it.  I only seasoned my food with Mrs Dash and kept sodium to as little as humanly possible.

After some time, I noticed odd things would happen to me when I was performing HIIT cardio.  I felt like I saw little spots.  The odd sensation would pass, and I would carry on- of course, I would carry on- hardcore people! The symptoms continued, and I continued to shake them off.

After my 5th pro show, I went to work the following Monday.  At the time I was working in the OR for a plastic surgeon assisting during procedures.  I was in the OR (!!) and felt the strange sensation.  I ignored it, as it seemed to pass before.  Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the hard tile floor.  I had passed out, luckily not in harm’s way of the patient, and severely hit my head on the tile floor.  I was taken to the emergency room for a CT.  Fortunately, I was ok but had a nasty welt that turned into two black eyes.  It was a gruesome sight.  Lesson learned the hard way is an understatement.

Lack of sodium lowered my already low blood pressure to dangerous levels causing me to pass out, jeopardize my health, the safety of those around me, and my current job.

We need sodium to maintain a healthy fluid balance and blood pressure level.  We need sodium to perform safely during sport activities.  This electrolyte has a bad reputation although it does so many important things for our health.

So why do we balloon up after dinners out?

Why do we feel better when we cut the sodium down in regards to water retention?

This is where being conscious of your sodium and potassium level can help you stay safe and feel great.  If you continue to have large fluctuations in sodium on a regular basis and have very low amounts of potassium (was the norm for me), you will notice water retention happening on a regular basis.  If you stabilize your sodium- for me I like to consume around 2300 mg each day- and level your potassium with your sodium- I love eating green vegetables, chicken, strawberries, potatoes, squash, yogurt, vita coco coconut water and, my most favorite source, bananas, to make sure I get my potassium in and rival the amount of sodium.  The closer the two are, the more balanced you will feel.

It can also help to supplement with potassium if you aren’t the best at consuming foods that are potassium-rich.  You can find 99 mg tablets at your local health store and consume with meals.  Make sure you drink enough water to help regulate this as well.  When your body doesn’t see enough water, it won’t release it.  You will notice your urine is more concentrated when you are dehydrated.  I drink no less than 100 ounces per day.  Drinks other than water count toward your water consumption but it is best to get most of your daily fluid amount from water.

Benefits of drinking enough water CLICK HERE to see chart

 Take away points

  • Attempt to keep sodium levels in a safe range- staying above 1000 mg
  • Keep sodium levels consistent as possible- large fluctuations can cause retention (think bloating after a night of endless soy sauce at your favorite sushi place)
  • Get enough potassium through foods.
  • Drink enough water, but not too much.  Yes, there is such a thing as too much water.  This could lead to hyponatremia as well (dangerously low sodium).  Aim for 1 gallon to 1.5 gallons of water per day.

Of course, even after our best efforts, females have a tendency to battle a different beast one time per month.  You can still use these tactics to help combat the bloat, but have a little extra patience around that time.  Hormones will do their thing as we all know!

I hope this helps the sodium, potassium, water retention enigma we likely have all fallen victim to! I could have avoided a nasty pair of black eyes with the right information as well as avoided a lot of water retention and bloating- so here’s to being safe, smart, and healthy as we continue on our fitness journeys.


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