Robb Wolf is the sort of person who is always asking: Why is this so? Why do we believe something is true, and is there actual evidence that it is so? Coming from a background in biochemistry, he has cast his critical eye on several widely held practices in health and found them to be untrue. His latest endeavor is around educating people on the essential value of electrolytes, specifically sodium. Just drinking straight water may well cause you to actually pull needed sodium from your body; the lack of sodium is dangerous. He found the majority of hydration methods currently in use are actually draining the body of the electrolytes it needs.
Robb, living a health-first lifestyle, recently moved his family to Montana, to an area more attuned to the natural world. He is one of those people who, rather than align their values to fit their circumstances instead changes the circumstances of their lives to fit their carefully researched values. One thing we noticed over many interviews is how important the alignment of values and actions are to one’s sense of wellbeing.
Often wrongly associated with high blood pressure, sodium is now understood to be essential to our daily lives. We need to be replacing the sodium, magnesium, and potassium we lose when we are active. The current recommended optimal amount of sodium has been upgraded from under 2.3g/day to 5-7g/day. To help people get the sodium and other elements they need without drinking a neon-colored, sugar-filled sports drink, Rob created LMNT.
How old are you?
I’ll be 51 in January, 2023.
Where are you from and where are you based?
From Northern California (we call it the state of Jefferson and the folks who live there and who are from there do NOT broadly identify with the insanity that typifies the rest of the state). Currently based outside of Kalispell, MT and will likely be here until they throw dirt on me.
Why are you living there?
My wife and daughters love four seasons, so this is a fantastic spot for that. What brought us here specifically was our jiu jitsu organization Straight Blast Gym. There are three gyms in the area… plugging into these communities is like spending 10 years in a place without something like this.
Do you have family there with you?
Yes, wife and two daughters (10, 8).
What are you doing for exercise now?
Most of what I do is oriented around staying in jiu jitsu and generally supporting my health span, so: BJJ 2-4 days per week, zone 2 cardio 3-4 days per week, strength training with a huge influence from Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) about 3 days per week.
“I got into ancestral eating to deal with a life-threatening case of ulcerative colitis”
You’re also a husband and a father. How do you balance work and personal life?
I’ve not always done a great job of this, particularly scheduling in down time. I’ve gotten better about planning time off, but neither my wife nor I are fantastic planners so this has been a work in progress. One huge thing that has improved work/life balance is removing ALL social media from my phone. I either do the work I need to do from the desktop out in my office or it does not happen.
You’re the co-founder of the electrolyte brand, LMNT. What brought you to starting an electrolyte brand?
Pretty similar to my whole story: I got into ancestral eating to deal with a life-threatening case of ulcerative colitis. Similarly, when I discovered both how important electrolytes are and how deficient I had been in them, I immediately recognized a huge need for good information and a solid product.
How has your previous life experience informed your journey with LMNT?
An interesting side note on that might be the fact I co-founded the first and fourth CrossFit affiliate gyms in the world. I learned a lot about seeing a concept, that initially no one knew about, become a household name. Watching the folks in and around CrossFit taught me as many things not to do as to do. I know that’s vague, but I learned a lot about building a movement, integrity, having leadership that is not pathological…
What was your original interest in biochemistry?
Initially, this was just a means to an end of going to medical school, but I found that I really loved the subject matter and fortunately also realized that I’d not be happy as a physician.
Overcoming Misconceptions About Sodium
So hydration is not the same as just drinking water?
NO! Hydration is water and electrolytes. This is a massively overlooked concept and one that has hurt many people. This is an interesting news piece that suggests Bruce Lee may have died from hyponatremia (low sodium)!
I thought sodium was supposed to be bad for us?
Yes, you and many other folks have been told this! Honestly, this is a case of guilt by association. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major factor in cardiovascular disease (which is the number one cause of early death worldwide). And, sodium IS a factor in blood pressure. The thing is, though, sodium is not the cause of hypertension. This is likely attributable to insulin resistance, and insulin resistance causes the body to retain excess sodium, thereby elevating blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Unfortunately, low sodium diets do not “fix” this problem. Reversing insulin resistance does largely address hypertension, but sodium has been singled out as this negative dietary item when it’s really a secondary factor in the story of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
How do you overcome the perception that most people have about sodium?
Relating material like what I wrote above is a solid first step. Sharing studies showing low sodium diets do not have much impact on blood pressure, while low glycemic load diets can have a massive impact… this all paints a picture that there may be more to this story than folks initially thought.
How much sodium would I lose if I was doing something like a 50-minute spin class?
This will depend on a lot of factors: how large of a person are you? Physical condition? Temp and humidity of the environment? Even individual genetic factors such as how much you may sweat vs other people. Lots of variables, right?! The most credible answer is: folks can expect to lose anywhere from 1-5g/hr of sodium/hr depending on all the above factors.
What about if I am just walking around, and not exercising, assuming I am not eating processed foods?
Same as above, only less. Again, there are a number of variables to all this. Walking around Central Texas in May is a very different thing than Northern Montana. Temperature, humidity, individual factors all contribute to fluid and electrolyte loss.
“Electrolytes drive every biological function, so they are important conception to death!”
What are some of the ways we disrupt our electrolytes without even realizing it?
Cold is perhaps one of the sneaky factors. When we are cold we tend to not be thirsty. This can create a significant problem as when we lose fluid volume it’s more difficult to move heat around the body, which can further alter our sense of thirst.
I understand the main demographic that LMNT co-founders Tyler Cartwright and Luis Villaseñor work with are women between the ages of 35 and 60. Are women’s needs different from men’s?
This is a controversial position but from my experience the main difference between men and women is that women show problems with too much calorie restriction and or over training earlier and more pronounced than men. People will do all kinds of hand waving saying “keto is NOT appropriate for women” when many of the people I see do best on keto are women! So, I think this is much more an individual issue than a sex-based issue, but that said, if women overly restrict protein, calories, etc we will see hormonal changes more quickly and more severely than with men (in general).
Is there an age component to needing electrolytes?
Electrolytes drive every biological function, so they are important conception to death!
Are there other parts of human biochemistry which interest you now?
I’m always interested in metabolism and biochemistry, but I’m much more interested in regenerative agriculture and non-equilibrium thermodynamics (which is a look at the total energy capture of living systems).
What are your ambitions for the next 10 years?
I’m going to work like crazy to help folks have sovereignty in their food, health and finances.
What are your three life non-negotiables?
Community, sleep, food, movement. (I gave you a bonus one!)
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