As we continue to expand in the age of digital technology and social media we tend to seek instant gratification. For many of us, this need to be satisfied upon demand has affected the way that we choose, prepare and eat food.

Instead of spending time in the kitchen chopping fresh vegetables and cooking whole foods, we choose the pre-cut, ready-made and processed options. Instead of eating at home 5 nights out of 7, we choose fast food joints, restaurants or worse takeaways and eating them on the way home.
Granted, not everyone is like this. However, if you fall somewhere into this bracket the chances are you are lacking on many important nutrients that are vital to your health.
When we lack vital vitamins and minerals our bodies struggle to function at full capacity, leaving many of us falling short of reaching our fitness goals.
One mineral in particular that you may be struggling with is Potassium. Potassium is an essential mineral that helps to regulate fluid balance, maintain healthy nerve function and stimulate smooth muscle contractions.

Generally speaking, a low-potassium diet rarely causes deficiency. However, with more and more foods being processed and filled with salts and additives (especially across Western style diets) many people are failing to hit their recommended daily intake (1).

Below are 5 signs that you may have a potassium deficiency:

1. Muscle Cramps or Spasms

Potassium is found in your muscle cells and regulates muscular contractions by relaying signals from your brain to start and end movement. However, when your potassium levels are low your muscle contractions become delayed, causing muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions of one or more of your muscles that occur suddenly without warning. Low potassium can be triggered by excessive sweating, fluid loss or prolonged periods of exercise or intense activity.

2. Fatigue

Fatigue and feeling weak are early signs of potassium deficiency. This is because the low levels affect cellular processes, which in turn affects how our bodies secrete hormones and use nutrients from food. In addition, low levels of potassium can lead to low blood pressure, causing dizziness, fainting and
overall weakness.

3. Poor Digestive Function: Bloating & Constipation

As mentioned above, potassium is vital for smooth muscle contractions. The digestive system is made
up of large muscles that need to contract smoothly to function optimally. Low potassium levels lead to
weaker contractions, which slow down the movement of food throughout the digestive tract and causes
bloating and constipation.

4. Muscle Stiffness

Muscle stiffness is usually an indication of rapid muscle breakdown and can sometimes be confused with
DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) which is a direct result of excessive/intense labour or
exercise.
When potassium levels are very low, your blood vessels can become contracted for long periods of time
and restrict blood flow to your muscles. The restricted blood flow means your cells receive less oxygen,
which can cause them to rupture, resulting in stiffness.

5. Mental Fatigue and Mood Swings

As mentioned above, low levels of potassium disrupt nerve and cellular signals. A byproduct of this is a
lack of optimal brain function, which causes mental fatigue and stress. In turn, this can affect your mood
and leave you feeling happy one moment and disturbed the next.

So, what can be done to ensure that you are getting enough of this vital mineral?

Nutrition

Eating foods rich in potassium is one of the best ways to increase your intake. Here are six foods that
contain high levels:
1. Greens (Spinach/Beet/Mustard Leaves)
2. Yams
3. White Beans
4. White Potatoes
5. Sweet Potatoes
6. Avocado

Supplements

Obtaining your nutritional requirements from food is not always an option. If you suffer from allergies
and intolerances or are simply time starved, ingesting vital minerals like potassium can prove to be a
problem. This is where supplementation becomes a priority.
The most popular supplements to obtain potassium are:

1. Over-The-Counter Potassium Capsules
However, these are limited by the FDA to containing just under 100milligrams of potassium
which only makes up 2% of the recommended dietary intake for an Adult (currently 4,700mg).

2. Electrolyte Powders
High quality electrolyte powders contain Sodium, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium. This
combination of minerals is imperative for complete muscle function, nerve communication as
well as providing a consistent energy balance. Most of these minerals are lost through your
sweat.

3. Dipotassium Phosphate
Dipotassium Phosphate is a highly water-soluble salt. It is a great source of Potassium and easily
assimilated into the body. It is best used with water or juice alongside training to fast replenish stores during intense exercise.

Bottom Line

Ensuring that you meet your nutritional requirements can be a big challenge, especially if you have a busy schedule, fail to plan your meals or eat a lot of processed and fast foods.
Vitamins and minerals play such a vital role that becoming deficient in one area, tends to have a domino effect across other parts of the body. A body that cannot function optimally is one that cannot be in an ideal state of health.
However, it is very important to note that ingesting too many vitamins or minerals can also have a
detrimental effect.
Studies show that too much potassium in the blood (known as Hyperkalemia) can be equally as bad. Too much can cause kidney failure, dehydration, tiredness, weakness, irregular heartbeats or palpitations and nausea (2, 3).
So as with any diet it is important to make steady changes and account for how your body reacts.

References:
1. Weaver, CM. (2013). Potassium and Health. In: Md. Bethesda, Advances in Nutrition. USA. American Society for Nutrition. Pp. 368S-377S [PMC Free Article] [PubMed]
2. Lewis, J. Hyperkalemia (High Level of Potassium in the Blood). [Online] Merck Manual. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolytebalance/hyperkalemia-high-level-of-potassium-in-the-blood
3. WebMd.com. WebMD Official Website. [Online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-zguides/hyperkalemia-causes-symptoms-treatments#1