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Fuel The Fighter: What to know about Potassium

"Fuel The Fighter" discusses each month how a mixed martial artist can apply physiology and nutrition to optimize his or her training and performance.
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What you need to know about Potassium
By PR Cole MS, RD Candidate
Columbia University

What is Potassium?

Potassium is a charged particle in the body, which is why it's referred to as an electrolyte. These dissolved electrolytes (which also include sodium and chlorine) are responsible for monitoring fluid, nutrient and waste exchanges throughout the cells of the body. Potassium is a particularly important nutrient because of its role in regulating heart rate.

What happens if I don't have enough Potassium?

Athletes who regularly experience significant sweat losses may be at risk for Potassium deficiency since electrolytes are lost in sweat. This loss impacts endurance capabilities as well as an athlete's ability to tolerate heat during a workout.

Potassium insufficiency is also a risk for those who use diuretics, laxatives and steroids. Symptoms of long -term potassium deficiency include irregular heartbeats, muscle weakness and impaired ability to use blood sugar for fuel. High blood pressure and kidney stones are also potential side effects of a potassium deficit.

How do I make sure I get enough Potassium?

You can easily compensate for sweat losses of electrolytes with a diet that includes unprocessed fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources. The daily recommended intake of Potassium is 4,700 milligrams. The following list of foods will help you maintain adequate potassium levels no matter how much you sweat.

Cole's Top Potassium Picks

Food Potassium (mg) Calories
Sweet potato, baked, 1 potato (146 g) 694 131
Yogurt, plain, non-fat, 8-oz container 579 127
Halibut, cooked, 3 oz 490 119
Lima beans, cooked, ½ cup 484 104
Winter squash, cooked, ½ cup 448 40
Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 oz 439 89
Banana, (medium size) 422 105
Spinach, cooked, ½ cup 419 21
Milk, non-fat, 1 cup 382 80
Honeydew melon, 1/8 medium 365 58
Lentils, cooked, ½ cup 365 115
Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup 358 112
Orange juice, ¾ cup 355 85
Split peas, cooked, ½ cup 355 116

NOTE: There is very little risk of overdosing on potassium through diet alone. Supplements on the other hand may cause potassium toxicity.

Sample Meals

Breakfast: Fruit and Yogurt

1 cup fat free yogurt, topped with 1 medium sliced banana and 2 tablespoons of wheat germ, served with ¾ cup of orange juice

Calories: 375

Potassium: 1,485 mg

Lunch: Spinach and Swiss omelet with whole -wheat toast

Combine 1 whole egg with 3 egg whites. Beat together and cook over the stove -top on a frying pan sprayed with nonstick PAM spray. Add ½ cup of spinach (fresh or defrosted from a frozen pack) and 1 slice (1 ounce) of low fat Swiss cheese. Season with black pepper and garlic and serve with two slices of 100% whole -wheat toast.

Calories: 520

Potassium: 729 mg

Dinner: Halibut with vegetables and brown rice.

Pan- fry 3 oz of halibut with nonstick PAM cooking spray. Season the fish with black pepper and lemon juice.

Prepare a medium sized sweet potato for baking. For easy microwave cooking, pierce the skin with a fork and cover with a damp paper towel before placing the potato on a microwavable plate. Cook on high power for 3 minutes. Turn the potato then cook again on high power for an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Steam ½ cup of lima beans (from frozen is usually cheapest) partially covered in the microwave (5 minutes on high) until tender.

Serve with 1 cup of brown rice (instant or traditional).

Calories: 570

Potassium: 1,722 mg



1. DeBruyne, L., Pinna, K., Whitney, E., (2008). Nutrition & Diet Therapy (7th ed.)
2. McArdle, W., Katch, F., Katch, V. , (2007). Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition & Human Performance (6th ed. )

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