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I want to talk about the importance of potassium with preserving muscle mass and reducing body fat.
Now, when it comes to gaining muscle mass and losing weight, most people don’t think about potassium. Instead, they focus on things like getting enough protein, getting their vitamins, or increasing their calorie intake. But potassium is just as important.
In this article: -
- We Need a Lot of Potassium
- Why is Potassium So Important
- Understanding Low Potassium
- Protein Needs Potassium
- Where do you get your Potassium?
We Need a Lot of Potassium
You need a lot of potassium. You probably already know this, but you need about 4700 milligrams of dietary potassium a day - and that’s not even when your body is stressed.
If you’re stressed or if you have a condition that makes your body constantly stressed - like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes - you probably need closer to 5000 - 6000 milligrams a day to support your system.
In fact, in prehistoric times, there are some studies that show that dietary potassium ranged between 7000 and 15000 milligrams per day. They were getting their potassium through greens, tubers, and roots. That’s a lot of potassium, and it was probably a good thing that they were getting so much.
That said, today this is difficult to get, and many people don’t consume enough. That’s because they consume a lot of low-potassium foods, along with unhealthy foods like refined sugars and carbs that actually deplete potassium in the system.
On top of that, most people are consuming too much sodium. You need four times as much potassium as sodium. An average person in America has this switched - they usually have a 1:4 ratio where they’re very light on the potassium and very heavy on the sodium.
And this imbalance doesn’t even come from the quantity of food. Instead, it usually comes from the quality. Refined carbs, specifically, not only deplete potassium in the body but also encourage your body to hold sodium. Plus, they hardly provide any healthy vitamins or minerals. So when you do a high carb diet, you wind up retaining a lot of sodium and losing your potassium.
As a result, you have this severe imbalance that’s really difficult to correct. You also have a higher likelihood of developing potassium deficiency and the wrong fluid balance. That deprives the body of a crucial mineral.
Why Is Potassium So Important?
Potassium is a mineral that’s absolutely essential for many basic bodily functions. Specifically, potassium helps the function of your brain, nerves, heart, and muscles. It can also:
- Move nutrients into your cells through the membrane and remove waste
- Counter the effects of sodium and help blood pressure
- Help your nerves fire properly
- Regulates the fluid balance in the body and the acid-base balance in blood and tissues
- It converts glucose to glycogen that can be stored in the liver and used for future energy.
It’s also difficult to over-do. If you have healthy kidneys, then your kidneys will simply excrete any excess potassium that you consume.
That said, many people don’t get enough and they pay a pretty high price.
Understanding Low Potassium
If you have low potassium, your body doesn’t function properly. Specifically, you will experience symptoms like:
- High blood pressure: When you’re low in potassium, blood pressure will increase. Why? Because potassium is a physiological relaxer. It’s a tranquilizer. It calms things down.
- Muscle cramps: Potassium is an electrolyte, meaning it helps control electricity and muscle function in the body. If it’s low, you’re more likely to experience cramps, charlie horses, and other neuromuscular issues.
- Sugar cravings: Potassium helps you store sugar, and it’ll actually help you get rid of sugar cravings because the storage of glucose needs potassium.
- Constipation: Potassium helps regulate digestion and keep things flowing.
- High insulin: There’s a relationship between sugar, blood sugar, diabetes, and potassium. In fact, when you have enough potassium, the need for insulin goes down - so I always recommend potassium for diabetic clients.
- Muscle weakness: You can have this inexplicable muscle weakness and not know why. That’s because electrolytes are needed to help the muscles contract.
- Abnormal heartbeat: That’s also why you can have an abnormal heartbeat. The heart is a muscle. These abnormal heartbeats - for example, atrial fibrillation and arrhythmias - are a combination of deficiency in potassium and/or magnesium.
- Anxiety and insomnia: Again, potassium is something to calm you down. So if you’re doing, for example, a diet that doesn’t involve a lot of potassium, you can start manifesting a lot of these symptoms.
And this is difficult to diagnose. 98% of our potassium is stored inside our cells - and it can’t be measured using a normal blood test. These tests only measure the potassium that’s in the blood plasma, which is only 2% of the total. To properly test, you’d have to do a special intracellular test that most doctors don’t know about.
That’s why I tend to go by symptoms - and why I make sure that my patients are getting enough of the potassium they need. Think you might be at risk? Well, many things can cause low potassium, including:
If you are sick and you vomit or let’s say you’re a bulimic, that can cause low potassium.
Maybe you’re just not eating enough potassium in your diet. Now, you might say, “Well, I eat bananas.” Well, bananas only have 300 mg of potassium, and you need 4700 mg per day to hit the regular amount that you need. That means you would have to consume 11-12 bananas to hit your daily dose.
And you don’t want to do that. You don’t want all that sugar.
Instead, it’s best to get it from potassium-rich vegetables and salad - and you are going to need about seven to ten cups. It’s not as hard as it sounds - it’s really just a couple big salads a day. If you don’t like salads, you can take kale and blend it with some berries and water so you can drink your salad in smoothie form.
Ketosis is the state of fat-burning when you’re eating more fat, no carbs, and you can become deficient in potassium from that, too. That’s why I always modify the ketosis diet and make sure that we have enough greens and vegetables to balance things out and prevent this problem.
Also, potassium is necessary for the digestion and breakdown and buildup of protein. People that are losing their hair, for example, sometimes just eat protein thinking that they’re going to get their hair back.
Without potassium, sorry, it doesn’t work.
Say you’re on a blood pressure medication. Well, you’re going to deplete the potassium and keep the blood pressure there.
That’s actually one of the side effects. So you better make sure that your diuretic is not pulling out potassium without you putting it back in.
This is stress. Stress can also deplete potassium. In fact, I’ve had people do advanced testing on their potassium levels - they are eating huge amounts of potassium, but because they’re under tremendous amounts of stress, their potassium stays low.
That’s because, when the adrenals are that depleted, it’s almost like you have a hole in the bucket and the potassium goes right through. So your levels will never be where they’re supposed to be if you’re amazingly stressed.
This will also cause low potassium, and this is sugar. Consuming sugar will deplete your potassium, and you can even feel it in your heartbeat. It starts to go fast and you can hear it in your inner ear - that strong heartbeat that you can hear is a sign of low potassium because you ate a lot of sugar. The solution? Eat more salad to put that back.
Drinking Too Much Water
When you drink too much water, you create a condition called hyponatremia, which is a dilution of all your electrolytes. Then your heart starts going out of balance and you can have a heart attack by drinking too much water.
So you want to drink water when you’re thirsty so you don’t flush out all your electrolytes.
Now how does this relate to protein and building muscles? Let’s dive in.
Protein Needs Potassium
Here are the facts. Every gram of protein needs 2.6 milliequivalents of potassium to be used in the body. That means, without enough potassium, you can’t hold protein or amino acids in your body. That’s one of the reasons why people get muscle atrophy, which is especially common for diabetics.
Why? Diabetics have insulin resistance. When you have insulin resistance, you cannot absorb potassium very well. So you lose your muscle protein and your amino acids. That’s why potassium is a very important mineral in preserving muscle density and preventing atrophy.
Glucose Also Needs Potassium
Each glucose molecule also needs one potassium ion. Now, we’ve been talking in other videos about reducing glucose, but we do need some storage of glucose in a form called glycogen. Why? Because it helps you maintain your energy between meals and has some other important functions.
Importantly, you don’t get that glycogen from eating sugar. You get it from eating any normal food. When you eat even non-sugary foods, your body will convert enough glycogen to store it if you need it.
If you don’t have enough potassium, guess what, you’re not going to store the sugar. Guess what you’re going to store? More body fat. So potassium actually helps people lose weight. It also preserves your muscle and helps you build lean mass.
Where Do You Get Your Potassium?
Try to get it from high-potassium vegetables. You can enhance your potassium intake with potassium citrate and other minerals, but you need about seven to ten cups of vegetables to get at least 4000 milligrams of potassium every day. That might seem like a lot, but it’s really just two large salads or two veggie-rich stir-fries. And at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
Give it a try and let us know how you feel.
Up Next: -
- Are You Salt Sensitive or Potassium Deficient?
- Bananas Are Not the Best Source of Potassium
- Diabetes Type 1 and Potassium
Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.