If you've ever experienced a calf cramp, you should have blamed it on a lack of potassium. After all, the body needs the mineral to contract muscles properly.
But how? It has to do with something called the potassium-sodium ion pump, which initiates nerve impulses in your cells, and thus, muscle contractions.
Potassium, which is a positively charged ion, does an important job in our cells. It works closely with sodium, which is negatively charged, to maintain what's called the membrane potential.
Potassium normally sits inside the membrane that surrounds the cell, while sodium sits outside the cell; when potassium leaves the cell and sodium enters, the two act as an ion pump, a "battery" that powers much of the cell and transmits electrical signals. In a typical adult at rest, a whopping 20 to 40 percent of our energy goes toward this pump.
So what's the big picture, you ask? Well, one major reason our bodies need potassium is that it helps to combat high blood pressure and counteract the salt in our diet. Because high-salt diets can cause calcium loss, potassium also keeps our bones strong.
How much you should have: Adults need 4.7 mg of potassium each day. But because most Americans consume three times as much salt as potassium, experts suggest that we may need even more potassium. We should consume five times more potassium than sodium in our diets.