What do potatoes and tomatoes have in common? Well, they are both vegetables (of sorts, tomatoes are technically fruits) and they both end with the suffix -toes. Asides from that, however, they are both rich sources of various nutrients, one of which is POTASSIUM.

Potassium is one of the most important nutrients needed by the body. It is considered one of the seven essential macronutrients, along with sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, calcium and sulfur. Potassium is needed to fulfill so many functions in the body and is super essential when working out.

Want to know all about potassium and its numerous benefits? Keep reading to find out.

What is Potassium?

Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals needed by the body to support key processes. Macrominerals are nutrients needed by the body in relative;y large quantities, typically greater than 100 milligrams per day. Less than adequate intake of these minerals can be detrimental to the health and even fatal in severe cases.

Several organs need potassium to support basic life functions. Potassium is an electrolyte, i.e., a charge-carrying mineral. As an electrolyte, potassium conducts electrical impulses throughout the body. It is essential for various body processes like heart contractions, blood pressure, kidney functioning, nerve impulses, digestion and homeostasis. Potassium is also key in several enzymatic processes in the body.

The amount of potassium in the body has to be regulated within a normal range. The kidneys are responsible for potassium regulation. When blood potassium levels are high, the kidneys are stimulated to enhance potassium excretion. When levels are low, they enhance retention, thereby keeping potassium levels balanced.

Potassium has a complex interplay with sodium in the body. While both are essential nutrients for the body, they play different functions, especially in cardiovascular health. Sodium and potassium levels are regulated together, with increased potassium excretion causing increased sodium retention and vice versa.

Adequate potassium intake is linked to numerous health benefits. However, over intake can result in toxicity which may be fatal.

health benefits of potassium

Benefits of Potassium

Potassium is an essential macromolecule and an electrolyte needed by the body to support various processes. Some of its major benefits include;

Helps manage blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular accidents. Potassium helps manage blood pressure by stimulating sodium excretion, a major cause of high blood pressure.

Potassium also acts directly on the heart muscles to reduce the force and speed of contractions and acts on blood vessels to cause dilations. These actions further reduce blood pressure, improve circulation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular accidents. 

Maintains bone health and prevents osteoporosis

Adequate potassium intake is linked to improved bone health and reduced risk of osteoporosis. This may be due to potassium’s ability to stimulate calcium retention, thereby increasing calcium concentration essential for bone growth, development and maintenance.

Maintains kidney health and prevents kidney stones

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals, majorly calcium, that form in the kidneys. Kidney stones cause severe pain, especially when urinating.

Excess calcium levels in the kidney are caused by an inability to reabsorb calcium back into the bloodstream. Conversely, adequate potassium intake reduces calcium accumulation in the kidney, thus helping to prevent the formation of kidney stones.

Maintains healthy nerve functioning and reduces nerve pain

Potassium is essential for nerve transmission. Reduced potassium intake interferes with this process, thereby causing nerve pain. Thus, adequate potassium intake reverses this problem and stimulates optimal nerve signaling.

Regulates Fluid balance

Sodium and potassium are important minerals in regulating fluid balance. High sodium levels drive fluid retention, while high potassium levels drive fluid excretion.

Maintains muscle health

Altered potassium levels affect nervous transmissions and, in turn, weaken muscle contractions. Adequate potassium intake helps to ensure that muscles contract optimally.

Recommended Daily Intake

Potassium is a macronutrient. This means that the body generally requires it in relatively large amounts, greater than 100mg. The National Academy of Medicine recommends a daily potassium intake of 3400mg for men and 2600mg for women. But these values vary between ages.

Recommended Daily Potassium Intake for Males and Females across ages

Age (years)Male (mg/day)Female (mg/day)
0-6 months400400
7-12 months860860
1-32,0002,000
4-82,3002,300
9-132,5002,300
14-183,0002,300
19+3,4002,600

The recommended daily intake is 2800mg for breastfeeding women, while pregnant women require 2900mg per day.

food sources of potassium

Sources of Potassium

The body does not make its potassium. Therefore, potassium must be sourced from potassium-rich foods or supplements to maintain adequate body levels.

Plant Sources

Plant-based foods are rich sources of potassium. However, processing these foods reduces the potassium amounts and invariably increases the amount of sodium in them.

Plant-based sources of Potassium

Food typeAmount of potassium (mg) per servingPercentage of Daily Value
Dried apricots1,10132%
Cooked lentils73122%
Dried prunes69920%
Mashed acorn squash64419%
Sweet potato, baked61018%
Canned kidney beans60718%
Orange juice49615%
Avocado46514%
Boiled soybeans44313%
Medium banana42212%
Red tomatoes2507%

Animal Sources

Animal-based foods are not regarded as prominent sources of potassium. However, some meats hold significant amounts of potassium. These include

  • Boneless pork loin – 770mg (23%)
  • Ground turkey – 575mg (17%)
  • Rib-eye fillet – 438mg (13%)
  • Lamb meat – 380mg (11%)
keto potassium food sources

Potassium Sources in Keto diet

Ketogenic (keto) diet plans focus on low-carb, high-fat meals to prioritize getting calories from healthy fats instead of carbohydrates. Keto diets are recommended to lower cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure, and manage diabetes.

Keto diet plans are tightly regulated, often eliminating certain foods. In light of this, it may not be easy to get certain nutrients if foods rich in them are eliminated. For example, the required daily potassium intake when following a keto diet is 4700mg. However, many potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, potatoes, dried apricots, melon and beets, are avoided when following a keto diet, making it hard to achieve this daily intake.

Regardless, a keto diet allows you to take many other potassium-rich foods. To get adequate potassium when on a keto diet, you should look to take adequate amounts of;

  • Avocados (708mg potassium per serving)
  • Edamame (678mg)
  • Salmon (309mg)
  • Beef (270mg)
  • Mushrooms (223mg)
  • Eggplant (188mg)

Incorporating these foods in regular keto diet recipes will help provide adequate potassium to benefit from its functions.

Supplements

People can obtain enough potassium by eating a healthy balanced diet. However, since many people do not get adequate potassium due to excessive consumption of processed foods, potassium supplements are thus necessary.

Potassium supplements are majorly prescribed to manage hypokalemia (low potassium levels in the blood). They are also prescribed to treat high blood pressure, muscle weakness, nerve pain, nausea, vomiting and kidney stones and to boost immunity.

Potassium supplements come in different forms, with each serving a different purpose. The common forms of potassium supplements are;

  • Potassium citrate: Potassium citrate is often recommended to prevent or treat kidney stones. Potassium citrate is alkaline and is rapidly excreted through the urine. Thus, it is used to reduce the acidity of urine, which may result from infections.
  • Potassium gluconate: Potassium gluconate is a complex salt of potassium and gluconic acid. It is rapidly absorbed and not quickly eliminated, making it effective for treating hypokalemia.
  • Potassium chloride: Potassium chloride is the most widely used supplement for treating hypokalemia. It is extensively absorbed after oral intake and releases potassium quickly to correct the deficiency.
  • Potassium phosphate: This supplement is often prescribed for treating phosphate deficiency. Phosphate is required for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Potassium bicarbonate: Potassium bicarbonate is also used to treat hypokalemia and other conditions caused by low potassium levels. It is often sold in combination with potassium chloride.

You should always consult a doctor before taking any potassium supplement since an overdose may be fatal. In addition, not everyone who has a potassium deficiency will require potassium. Also, these supplements may interfere with certain drugs like; blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, insulin and antifungals.

potassium deficiency

Potassium deficiency

Many people do not meet the daily recommended intake of potassium. Luckily, potassium deficiency rarely results from low intake. Instead, it mainly results from the rapid loss of great amounts of potassium. Conditions that can lead to rapid potassium loss include;

  • Acute or chronic kidney disease
  • Acute or chronic vomiting and diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Use of diuretic medications (like Lasix)
  • Use of certain antibiotics.

Potassium deficiency can cause various symptoms depending on the severity of the deficiency. Mild hypokalemia may not cause any symptoms and will usually regulate independently. However, severe hypokalemia may result in;

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle spasms and cramps
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hypertension
  • Constipation, nausea or vomiting

Potassium Excess and Toxicity

Rarely a person’s potassium levels might become too high. This usually happens when kidney function has been compromised, limiting its ability to excrete excess potassium. Hyperkalemia (excess potassium) may also result from an overdose on potassium supplements or medications that cause potassium retention.

Potassium excess may present with little or no symptoms and may not cause any damage if treated speedily. When symptoms present, they are usually similar to those of hypokalemia. However, severe hyperkalemia may also present with;

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heart rate and palpitations
  • Chest pain

If left untreated, severe hyperkalemia can become fatal

Treating Unbalanced Potassium Levels

Hypokalemia and hyperkalemia are treated using different strategies.

  • Hypokalemia: Oral potassium supplements, most commonly potassium chloride, are used to treat mild to moderate hypokalemia cases. In severe cases, however, intravenous potassium chloride may be used to restore potassium levels rapidly. In some cases, people may be prescribed drugs known as potassium-sparing diuretics. These help the body get rid of sodium and water while retaining potassium.
  • Hyperkalemia: Treating potassium excess is more complex. Mild cases of hyperkalemia may be treated with regular diuretics like Lasix. Glucose and insulin may also be used on occasions. In addition, calcium gluconate is often used to reduce the effects of hyperkalemia on the heart, while albuterol inhalers may reduce dangerously high levels of potassium. In very severe cases, a person may require dialysis.
potassium effects on bodybuilding

Potassium Effects on Bodybuilding

Potassium is also beneficial when working out or building muscles. Potassium acts through different systems to enhance efficiency in workouts and bodybuilding.

First, potassium directly acts on the muscles, improving contractility and muscle strength. Thus, potassium increases the ability and efficiency of heavy lifting activities. Potassium also aids in the quick recovery of muscle soreness and muscle cramps after workouts, enabling athletes to be consistent in their routines.

Potassium also aids bodybuilding efforts by strengthening the bones. Potassium makes the bone more alkali, enabling it to retain its structural integrity and thus support the mass of growing muscle above it. Potassium also aids nervous transmission and allows for the effective coordination of small muscle groups. These muscles are needed to support weight lifting efforts and fitness exercises.

Bottom Line

Potassium is an essential nutrient for the body. Its benefits cut across various organs, including the heart, muscles, bones and kidneys. Potassium is mainly obtained through vegan or plant sources but may also be obtained through animal sources or supplements. Potassium deficiency or excesses are rare since the kidneys finely regulate potassium levels. However, when severe, they may present with life-threatening symptoms.

Potassium also aids bodybuilding and is a nutrient that should be incorporated more by athletes and bodybuilders. Always speak to a doctor before commencing potassium supplements as they may be harmful if taken excessively.

References

How to Get Enough Potassium When You’re on a Keto or Low-Carb Diet

What Does Potassium Do for Your Body? A Detailed Review

Everything you need to know about potassium

Meats High in Potassium