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Potassium: Function and Fueling

By Amanda Turner MS, RD | June 22, 2015


Potassium is one of the four major minerals along with sodium, chloride, and phosphorus, that functions as an electrolyte in our body, carrying either a negative or positive charge, which stimulate nerves and cause muscles to contract. Potassium works with sodium to maintain proper fluid balance, help regulate the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.

Where To Find Potassium

The Adequate Intake (AI) for potassium is 4,700 mg per day for all adults. If you’ve ever tracked your nutrition, you’ve learned that this is a lot of potassium! Potassium is found in a variety of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and is not commonly found in processed foods. Unfortunately, more people are consuming processed foods, causing a decrease in their potassium intake and an increase in their sodium intake. The imbalance between potassium and sodium in a persons’ diet is a major factor contributing to hypertension in the United States. Limiting processed foods that are high in sodium and consuming more potassium rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and dairy food is critical in preventing hypertension. The following goods are great sources of potassium:

Tomato juice
Coconut water
Bran/wheat germ

1 medium baked potato = 1,000 mg of potassium
8 ounces nonfat plain yogurt = 600 mg of potassium
1 cup tomato juice = 600 mg of potassium
1 cup banana = 400 mg of potassium

DASH Diet Recommendations

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a guide of recommended servings that can help reach and maintain a healthy weight. The guidelines recognize that a large portion of the US population is overweight or obese, leading to an increase in diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. The recommendations encourage people to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy while limiting added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium.

High Potassium Beverages for Sports Fuel

Coconut water has become a popular sports drink in current advertising. While potassium is an essential nutrient and can help regulate muscle contraction, drinking a high potassium, low sodium beverage during exercise is not recommended. The primary electrolyte lost in the sweat is sodium, therefore, sodium has the greatest need for replacement during exercise longer than 60-90 minutes. Choose beverages like Nuun, Skratch, Gatorade, or another electrolyte containing beverage as your hydration agent for endurance events. Don’t discount coconut water completely though! It is packed with potassium, so enjoying it post activity is still a great option. Keep in mind that coconut water is all sugar and does contain some caloric value, so if your goal is weight loss, it may not be the best potassium option for you.