How Does The Sodium & Potassium Pump Work?

And why is it important to maintain Electrolyte Balance?

There is no dummy-way to describe the function or definition of the Sodium Potassium Pump, so this description will start out a bit more scientific then I would like, but will hopefully make sense in the end.  By definition, the Sodium Potassium Pump is “A mechanism of active transport that moves potassium ions into and sodium ions out of a cell.”

What the heck is that? It is the process where sodium flows out and potassium flows in.  If we didn’t have this process, we would build up sodium ions which attract water.  The more sodium in, the more water in and eventually the cells would burst.  The pump allows for a proper balance of the two.

Salt (Sodium Choloride) as a very important electrolyte

sodium potassium pumpLet’s start out talking about salt.  Salt is an essential electrolyte that our bodies need.  These electrolytes can carry messages along our nerves and control essential body functions like heart beat.  Have you ever noticed your heart rate rise and you are unable to get it down when doing longer or harder efforts of training in the heat?  You can’t drink enough water to quench your thirst and even walking doesn’t bring your heart rate back down to a normal range?

The transmission of sodium in and out of our cells helps regulate hydration, a key factor in brain function and muscle fatigue. When we have too much or too little sodium, it can cause somewhat of a malfunction and things typically effortless functions like speaking, breathing, walking and thinking logically become a challenge.

What does potassium do to help electrolyte balance, and why is it important?

Just like sodium, potassium is also essential for normal cell function and helps regulate heart beat and the contraction and relaxing of muscles.  If we didn’t have a good balance and normal level of potassium in our bodies it would dramatically affect or heartbeats and at times could be fatal.

What does all this mean to me as an athlete?

As muscles contract an electrical charge causes potassium inside your muscle cells to exchange place with sodium outside of your cells.  If the pump is having a hard time regulating these two important electrolytes then nerves will send signals to your brain that reacts by giving you warning signs like, higher heart rate, longing thirst as well as muscle cramps.  To help keep the sodium potassium pump working properly, magnesium may be supplemented along with other essential vitamins and minerals to keep this electrolyte balance working and functioning.

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  1. […] written a lot about the sodium-potassium pump, and why we need electrolytes, so please review those articles if you’d like to learn more […]

  2. […] electrolytes are vital for cellular function!  For example, the sodium/potassium pump, as explained in a previous […]

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