I’m commonly asked whether one should take electrolyte supplements when fasting. I must admit that during my first long fast, which lasted ten days, I didn’t add any salt to my water at all. That was a big mistake.
It’s very important to maintain a healthy balance of salts (electrolytes) in your body during a long fast. Thankfully, I’ve found that maintaining this balance is actually very simple. It’s not a question of buying expensive electrolyte supplements of dubious effectiveness.
I’ve found that simply adding a pinch of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt to my drinking water during a fast, just enough that you taste a slight tangy, almost brackish flavour, is enough to keep salt levels adequate. Perhaps further supplementation is needed during very long fasts, but for fasts between 1-5 days this method has worked well for me. Here is an interesting article from Virtahealth.com about the relationship between sodium and potassium and a healthy diet. It’s geared towards the Keto diet, but it’s useful for our purposes here as well.
Sodium intake affects potassium and magnesium levels, and I’ve heard that sodium has a sparing effect on these other minerals, although I can’t find any research to verify it. Here is another interesting article, from zerofast.com, about electrolyte supplementation during a fast that might be useful.
As always, I base my own approach to fasting on my own direct experience whenever possible, so here’s what I experienced during my ten day fast without supplementing with sea salt.
To put it simply, I made my fast way more difficult than it had to be. After the first few days I began getting very dizzy, lethargic, had minor headaches and some muscle cramps. I remember almost fainting on day eight due to standing up too fast. That’s when I started really researching the electrolytes and realized that I needed to add salt to my water.
In fact, a severe electrolyte imbalance during a long fast can result in (or at least contribute heavily to) refeeding syndrome, which can be life-threatening if not dealt with adequately. I believe I came out of the ten day fast with a mild case of refeeding syndrome, although thankfully after some more research and experimentation I was able to reverse it.
If you want to begin following a fasting-focused lifestyle you would do well to begin your own experimentation with salt supplementation. Ingesting sea salt does not reduce the effects of autophagy and healing, if anything it will help your body to heal, because mineral balance is essential to proper physical functioning. It will also make your fasts easier, you’ll feel more energetic and less hungry.
One final note on this subject: Diuretics. Many people, myself included, often drink tea or coffee during a fast. This seems to be okay for the most part, but we need to remember that these substances have quite substantial diuretic effects, meaning increased urination, meaning more salts leaving the body. This is something to be mindful of, and you may want to increase sodium intake if you drink a cup of coffee or tea during your fast.
Regardless, coffee and tea should be used sparingly, if at all, during longer fasts. They have the potential for messing up your electrolyte levels, which will definitely make you miserable. Coffee especially is quite acidic, and may have negative effects on gut flora when drunk on an empty stomach. However, as always, use your own discretion, because fasting is a highly individual pursuit, and apart from some general guidelines, you should put a lot of thought and effort into understanding your own physiology.
With that being said, may you have many more delightful and beneficial fasting experiences.