We can read here that the Yanomamo Indians do fine on a diet that hardly contains any salt. They live in hot humid conditions so they'll certainly lose liquids in the form of sweat of the order of 1 liter or more, yet their sodium intake measured via urinary excretion is around 0.05 grams per day. It has been argued that this level of intake is optimal for us as our bodies have evolved under conditions where there was hardly any salt available. A typical "low salt" Western diet where you take care to avoid excessive salt intake, will typically yield salt intakes that are 50 times higher than a prehistoric diet.

The Yanomamo have blood pressures that are lower than seen in healthy Western people, and blood pressures don't rise with age, as pointed out here. So, it could be that a "normal" blood pressure of 120 mm Hg is actually a hypertensive blood pressure. If this is true then it seems to me that getting rid of salt in the diet, reducing it to something of the order of 0.1 grams or less per day, could not only prevent essential hypertension as we age, but it could be used by athletes as a way to enhance performance.

So, I was wondering if tests have been performed to see if long term severe salt restriction enhances athletic performance?

1 Answer 1


You shouldn't compare yourself to other societies adapted to entirely different environment for generations. Yanomamo are in central South America. While many more people have lived near the ocean with access to plenty of salt since ancient times. Also there are many other factors in the lives of Yanomamo people I would guess that haven't been taken into account.

I couldn't find any data on low sodium intake benefiting athletic performance. On the opposite - there are claims that very low sodium intake could cause different problems to athletes - like muscle cramps, heat illness, inability to rehydrate and others. Also trying to avoid any salt in current society will be extremely hard - almost all food and drinks contain some.

So given that there is no evidence that this could help you - I would just focus on "healthy" intake as described in western health journals. If you stay under 2000mg of sodium intake and drink plenty of water, any difference in athletic performance will come from other factors. Your kidneys are very capable of shedding the extra salt and compensating when you don't consume enough.

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