There's a reason why trainers and dietitians suggest eating a banana after a workout to replenish those potassium stores. (A tip? Try this peanut butter banana roll up after coming back from a run.) Potassium is super important for maintaining adequate hydration and hormonal response.
Low potassium, also called "hypokalemia" in medical terms, is a condition where you experience lower than normal levels of potassium in your bloodstream.
Here's what's going on: Potassium works with sodium, another mineral in the body, to keep fluid and electrolyte levels balanced. And, optimal fluid levels will benefit your heart and also prevent muscle soreness and cramping (which is why it's the perfect post-workout snack.)
But, what if you're not getting enough? Here are a few signs you might be deficient in this essential mineral, as well as a few tips for getting your fill.
As high potassium levels can prevent cramping and muscle fatigue, it makes sense that low levels will result in the opposite.
Unfortunately, if you're not eating enough potassium-rich foods, like sweet potato, watermelon, beets, spinach, squash, and bananas, you'll run the risk of getting a charley horse when you're sleeping or wake up with heavy legs and stiffness, says UK-based Clinician Becky Connolly.
If you start to feel super sore, try adding in these foods to see if there's a difference. No one wants to live muscle pain, right? (Try this roasted sweet potato soup, which is both warming and seasonal this time of year.)
Connolly also cautions against constipation, which can happen when you're not eating enough potassium during the day. As potassium helps manage hydration levels in the body, it also impacts your bowels. (Or, your lack of bowels.)
As you can imagine, feeling constipated isn't fun. It will weigh you down, thanks to that enlarged belly, and it'll make your attempts at #2 feel challenging and painful. So, if you're starting to get backed up, drink plenty of water and eat potassium-filled foods to get things moving again.
You're Mentally Exhausted
Are you forgetting things? "Poor memory and concentration can be one of the signs of low potassium," says Dr. Melva E. Pinn-Bingham, MD.
Because your brain needs fluids to stay alert, if you're not getting enough potassium and are becoming dehydrated, you run the risk of getting burnt out, mentally. So, if you feel tired mid-day at the office, grab a snack that's high in potassium to regain some mental strength.
Plus, if you're tired when you're getting 7-8 hours of sleep, it could be a sign.
"Exhaustion/ fatigue especially when you know you are getting enough sleep," is a common sign of potassium deficiency, says Pinn-Bingham. Many cells in our bodies need potassium to function normally, and when it is low, it can cause fatigue, he explains. (Plus, a few benefits to getting enough sleep.)
Abnormal Heart Complications
High blood pressure and heart palpitations can occur when you're deficient in potassium, says Pinn-Bingham. Why? "Potassium helps relax your blood vessels, so when you don't get enough of it, they become constricted, which means they tighten and lead to increased blood pressure," he says.
And, as for palpitations, your heart might suddenly skip a beat as your heart isn't getting the fluids it needs to function properly.
The takeaway? You need that potassium!
So, how much do you need? "According to the USDA, the recommended daily amount of potassium is 4.7 grams per day. Yet, the amount varies based on age, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, so be sure to check with your doctor," says Pinn-Bingham.
Though, a check could be helpful, anyway, as many people aren't getting enough, he says.