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Do you want to gain muscle mass or properly address atrophied muscles? There are a few things you have to take into account - and one of those things is your potassium levels.
In this article:
- Potassium is Necessary For Protein Synthesis
- Potassium and Insulin
- So Where Do You Get Your Potassium?
- How do you know if you have a deficiency?
Here is everything you need to know.
Potassium is Necessary For Protein Synthesis
If you want to develop muscles, you need to make protein in your body. That requires potassium.
Now, let’s take it from the top. Protein synthesis is when the body takes amino acids - or protein building blocks - and turns them into protein. Now muscle isn’t the only thing created here.
Hair, nails, skin, collagen, ligaments, tendons, fascia - all of the cellular protein that makes up your body needs potassium to work. Protein and healthy muscle cannot grow without this potassium.
The problem here is that this isn’t something that people usually focus on when they’re trying to build muscle. Instead, they make sure that they exercise a ton, that they have a healthy high-protein diet, and that they consume enough extra calories to build muscle.
But, even if you have the perfect exercise routine and are on top of your nutrition, it won’t make a difference without potassium. Instead, the protein will be expelled, the calories will be converted to excess fat, and the exercise will just feel like it's not working and like it's leaving you with sore muscles. That's why people bounce between diets and exercise routines - they're missing the most important piece of the puzzle.
Potassium and Insulin
Insulin has a function of helping you absorb amino acids into your cells. If you have insulin resistance - which happens if you’re pre-diabetic or diabetic - then this protein will not go into the cell.
That’s why many diabetics lose their muscle mass. Their cells literally cannot accept the amino acids that they need to create protein, and thereby muscle.
By increasing potassium, you can actually improve insulin resistance and tackle this problem at the source.
So Where Do You Get Your Potassium?
- Beet tops
- Other vegetables
Basically anything green. All you have to do is increase your vegetables to seven to ten cups a day to get your daily requirement.
How do you know if you have a deficiency?
Well, first it’s important to note that it’s difficult for the majority of people to get enough potassium in their diets. The human body actually needs more potassium than any other mineral - a whopping 4700 mg! To get enough, you need to have seven to ten cups of salad or potassium-rich vegetables every day.
As we mentioned, veggies are the most abundant source of potassium that you’ll find. Contrary to popular belief, bananas won’t give you nearly enough - you’d have to eat like 12 bananas in a day in order to get adequate amounts, and from a sugar perspective, that’s just not healthy.
And if you try to get it from supplements, you’re usually dealing with synthetics. These are never ideal, and they’re void of the other vital nutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds that you’ll get from plant-based potassium sources.
So you need a ton of salad to get the required amount, and most people just don’t eat that much.
If you do have low potassium levels, you’ll experience:
- 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. Not getting enough can hinder muscle function and cause muscle pain, cramps, and post-exercise soreness.
- 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 issues can cause serious GI problems, including constipation.
- 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 or extended muscle recovery time 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, arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rate - 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 won’t be something that you’ll easily diagnose.
Most of the potassium in your body - 98% of it, to be exact - is inside the cell, not in the blood. So when you do a blood test, potassium deficiency is not going to show up unless it’s very extreme.
The type of test you would have to do to accurately test for potassium deficiency is an intracellular test. It’s very sophisticated, so people don’t really ask for it and many doctors don’t even know about it.
That’s why you’d have to go primarily by symptoms to know if this is something you’re dealing with. This may be something that you should check if you:
Have Vomited Frequently
If you are vomiting excessively for any reason, it can cause low potassium, otherwise known as hypokalemia.
Have a Low Potassium Diet
Maybe you’re just not eating enough potassium in your diet. Now, you might say, “Well, I eat bananas.” Well, as we mentioned, 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 chances are you’re not doing that.
Are In Ketosis
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.
If you’re on a blood pressure medication, chances are that you're going to deplete your potassium levels and keep the blood pressure there.
That’s actually one of the side effects of most popular diuretics. So you better do your research and 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 and carbohydrates. 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.
Drink Too Much Water
When you drink too much water, you create a condition called hyponatremia, which is a dilution of all your electrolytes and your fluid balance. 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.
I also like to hydrate my water with lemon, a little bit of apple cider vinegar, maybe a little Stevia if it’s carbonated. I drink Pellegrino a lot, or I drink filtered water. This is the best way to get hydration without depleting your electrolytes.
Consume a Lot of Sodium
Your body needs about 1000 milligrams of sodium and 4700 milligrams of potassium a day. This ratio is really important. Why? Sodium and potassium work together in the body. They’re kind of a pair of minerals, and you need the right amount of each for your body to function properly.
Now, the average American consumes 3700 mg of sodium per day. That’s a lot of sodium. What’s more: they only consume 1000 mg of potassium. So they have these reversed. And if they continue to have too much potassium, they can't absorb sodium properly. So, if this is you, you have to drop your sodium to fix the potassium problem.
Overall, just remember that, if you’re having trouble-building muscle, low potassium may be the cause.
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.