We have all heard the age-old advice – be sure to eat plenty of bananas to get your potassium. Well what exactly do we need potassium for, and are bananas the best place to get it?
Potassium is a mineral electrolyte that the body needs in order to function properly.
This mineral is important in both how well we perform when we go to the gym as well as how well we heal afterwards. It is involved in nerve firing and muscle contraction, building the proteins that form our muscles, breaking down and using carbohydrates from our food and building bones.
Potassium’s benefits are not only confined to the gym, but also our daily health and energy. It helps to regulate and lower blood pressure, maintain a healthy acid-base balance in our bodies and is involved in heart health in the form of electrical activity.
How can you tell if you may not be consuming enough potassium?
A common symptom that many of us have likely experienced are muscle cramps and weakness, especially when pushing our muscles during an intense workout.
In 2005, the Journal of Athletic Training conducted a study where physically active individuals with a history of exercise-associated muscle cramps performed a calf-fatiguing exercise under 2 conditions: one without fluids and one with a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage that included potassium as one of the electrolytes. The subjects with the carbohydrate-electrolyte trial who experienced cramping worked out for over twice as long before experiencing muscle cramps, demonstrating the importance of hydration and electrolytes on muscle fatigue.
So if you stay hydrated with an appropriate electrolyte balance, including plenty of potassium, you will be able to work out harder, longer.
There are other symptoms that you could experience, including fatigue, increased blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms when you have too little potassium in your diet.
We all need to keep our mental and physical energy at the best it can be to push as hard as we must throughout the day, so how can we be sure to get enough potassium? Don’t go running to the supermarket to purchase bushels of bananas just yet – there are foods that contain even more potassium than bananas.
5 Potassium Rich Foods
The average banana only has 12% of the daily value of potassium, so unless you want to eat bananas all day every day, it is important to be sure you are eating a balanced and healthy diet containing the following foods:
All beans contain large amounts of potassium, from 15% to about 35% of the daily value of potassium in one cup.
An easy and satisfying way to get this is from chili! Make your own homemade chili loaded with beans and whatever meats or vegetables you like over the weekend, and you can freeze it in containers to use throughout the week and send with your family for lunches.
2. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens are packed full of potassium, along with other beneficial vitamins and minerals. Spinach comes in at a shocking 24% of your daily value in one serving, with swiss chard coming in at 27%.
You don’t have to eat salads to get plenty of greens; saute greens to go with dinner. Throw in some garlic for flavor and use coconut oil as the base, then add in some pink Himalayan sea salt and pepper to taste. You can even add some spinach to eggs, soups, or even the chili mentioned above.
Squash can range from 10% to 26% of the daily value of potassium in one cup of cubed squash. Acorn squash is the highest at 26% DV.
Many people look at a squash and think that it looks a bit difficult to prepare, but it is actually extremely easy! Squash has both a savory and mildly sweet taste without adding anything to it, so it is hard to mess up squash.
Option 1: Preheat oven to 350. Cut in half and remove seeds. Place cut-side down in a pan for 30 minutes, turn over and season (grass-fed, organic butter or olive oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper/cinnamon/brown sugar) and cook for 20 more minutes.
Option 2: You can microwave squash if in a rush! Cut in half and remove seeds, place cut side down on a piece of microwave safe plastic wrap on a plate and microwave for about 5-7 minutes, or until soft (if doing the whole squash this can take closer to 10-12 minutes). Once soft, flip over and season to taste.
Avocados are a great staple to have in your diet. Full of healthy fats and vitamins, avocados provide over twice as much potassium than one banana, with a whopping 26% DV in one avocado.
A great snack for a couple of hours before your workout, avocados provide stable energy while also giving your body the potassium that it needs.
It might surprise you to find out that white mushroom have 12% of your DV of potassium in 1 cup of sliced mushrooms, with other mushrooms providing about 5-10%.
Mushrooms do not get the attention that they deserve in the health space. They are chalked full of potassium, iron, vitamin D and many other crucial nutrients. These low calorie foods are easy to add to many dishes, such as chili, soup and eggs, and even stand well on their own as a replacement burger or stuffed with other goodies.
It is best if possible to get the potassium that you need from your diet, but if you believe you may have low potassium levels it could be a good idea to supplement. There are some people who have conditions that may cause malabsorption of potassium, including conditions that cause chronic diarrhea and laxative use.
If you think you have low levels of potassium, it is best to work with a doctor to determine what kind and quantity of supplements to take. Additionally, prescription supplements may be cheaper in some cases, so if there is a medical condition a doctor can be extremely beneficial.
Potassium chloride supplements are available in extended-release tablets and have more potassium than potassium gluconate supplements. This allows for your body to absorb the potassium slowly, in consistent levels and is helpful when the overall levels in the body are low.
There are dangers to ingesting excess potassium, such as abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms, so be sure not to take too much supplementation in addition to your dietary potassium. For those over 19 years of age the suggested quantity is 4.7 g/day, but is less for younger individuals. You will also need slightly more if you are working out regularly.
1. Potassium in Diet
2. How is Potassium Absorbed
3. Is Potassium Helpful for Sore Muscles?
4. Top 10 Foods Highest in Potassium
5. Top 10 Doctor Insights on Potassium Chloride vs. Potassium Gluconate
6. Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Journal of Athletic Training. April-June 2005.