Potassium is needed for maintaining a normal fluid balance, muscle action, and proper transmission of nerve impulses; it assists in the conversion of glucose to glycogen, and in the synthesis of muscle protein from amino acids. It is found naturally in bananas, potatoes, orange juice and other fruits and vegetables. However, as you sweat while exercising, your generally lose potassium, so it needs to be replenished after exercise.
Potassium can also be lost or stored in your system due to the diuretic effect of certain medications; this is referred to as sparing and non-sparing drugs. Long-term anti-inflammatory use, heart medications, diuretics used for high blood pressure, and certain birth control pills (such as the Yaz brand) all lower potassium levels. The estimated daily requirement for an otherwise healthy individual who is building muscle or exercising rigorously is 2,000 mg for an adult.
If you aren't getting natural sources of potassium, you'll need to take dietary supplements. Here are some tips on how to choose potassium supplements.
- Establish your current level of potassium to determine why you need to supplement. Since sources of potassium are generally easily obtained via the foods we eat -- such as bananas, potatoes, orange juice and other fruits and vegetables -- people first need to assess whether or not they actually need to supplement potassium at all. If your potassium is too low, it can cause muscle weakness and heart irregularities. Low potassium can show up on routine blood work, and if so, your doctor will likely tell you to try to eat a banana a day or every other day, or potentially take a health supplement depending on your specific levels.
- Determine the type of supplement desired. Potassium is readily available in foods, but is also part of some commercial protein drinks and is available in vitamin form. If you are supplementing due to side effects of your medication, it is best to include your potassium with food and, whenever possible, with foods that are already rich in potassium. If you are supplementing due to loss after exercise, replenishment is best post-workout when you are restoring your fluids. Since it is lost daily, it generally needs to be replaced daily, requiring you to find a type of supplement that you will remember to take daily. A small amount of potassium is often included in a daily multivitamin.
- Determine price range. Potassium supplements are readily available at most drugstores and in multivitamins. Nature's Made has a well-priced potassium supplement that does not have any additives.
- Check for conflicts with any medications or allergies. Some high blood pressure medications "spare" the potassium. While the body normally loses potassium when it loses fluids, on a sparing diuretic you keep potassium in your system despite losing fluids (except via sweating), leaving a slight build-up. So if you presume you lost potassium after losing fluids and look to replenish it, you may be taking in more than you actually need. Potassium is not toxic unless the kidneys are not functioning properly, in which case the build-up in the blood could lead to irregularity in heartbeat and heart function. So there is some risk in just deciding to supplement without first knowing your current levels of potassium. If you are on a prescription medication or over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen, you may want to take this into account. A potassium allergy is unlikely, but any supplement you take should be checked for wheat, gluten, sugar, soy, shellfish, salt and other known allergens that are often used in the capsule. Any of these items would be listed on the label.
- Change your regimen as your needs change. Your needs can change when you change medications or increase your exercise regimen. Even moving to a warmer climate may cause you to lose more fluids and you need to be aware of replenishing potassium. Levels can drop when dieting, often a concern when someone loses weight too rapidly or becomes underweight.
Now you know how to choose these dietary supplements. Make sure you do your research and talk to a doctor before taking this supplement.