The Importance Of Electrolytes

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Electrolytes are essential to physical activity. During intense exercise they begin to shift in the body; dehydration is about electrolyte loss, not just water loss.

What are electrolytes?  They are minerals, which break into small, electrically-charged particles called ions when they dissolve in water. They regulate bodily fluids and are found in our blood and cells.

How much do they matter in physical performance?

They matter quite a bit.

Electrolytes are critical for any kind of performance. We should be just as concerned about replenishing them as we are with replacing any lost fluid. If we eat a balanced diet we’re probably consuming adequate quantities of electrolytes for normal human function.

But if we are working out….

The balance begins to shift, by increasing the concentration of electrolytes in the body and then, over time, depleting them. We can actually witness improvement in our immediate performance with replenishing our electrolytes when working out. Physical function may hang in the balance if electrolyte levels remain low after a workout.

Why?

Our bodies lose electrolytes through sweat, which can result in an imbalance. This may bring on symptoms such as; muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, and mental confusion. If these levels stay low, it can effect our next workout and possibly cause longer term health issues.

 Key electrolytes:

  • Sodium and Chloride – help “excite” nerves and muscles
  • Calcium – aids muscle contraction
  • Magnesium – aids healthy cell function
  • Potassium – helps regulate pH balance
  • Phosphate – helps regulate pH balance

During workout sessions lasting at least an hour, the plan for electrolyte replacement will depend on the following:

  1. Keeping in mind, men tend to sweat more than women, so the amount of electrolyte replacement will depend on our size and how much we sweat. Do you sweat a lot when working out?
  2. Are you working out in warmer weather? (Excess water without electrolytes in heat, actually washes electrolytes out of the body, increasing the risk of dehydration.) Also–individuals who are salty sweaters, which is indicated by skin and clothing covered in salt residue during and/or after exercise, should eat a salty snack or drink a sports drink instead of water for pre-exercise hydration–especially in higher temperatures and humidity.
  3. The length of our workout. Endurance athletes would need the most fluid with electrolyte replacement, as we lose more water than some electrolytes when sweating (where we lose more sodium and chloride), so we need to be preemptive in replacing them before we hit the wall. How long do you work out? More than an hour?A general rule of thumb is to never begin a workout session thirsty or dehydrated. Start electrolyte replacement at the beginning of your workout.

How to best ingest electrolytes?

Besides looking at our diets and seeing foods, which contain the above key electrolytes, there are several quick and easy items we can grab to have with us during and after our workout.

  • Sports Drinks
  • Milk (chocolate milk is best)
  • Coconut water
  • Emergence C
  • Energy gels
  • Dill pickles
  • Tomato Juice
  • Table Salt
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Potato with skin
  • Greens
  • Mixed nuts
  • Baked potato chips
  • Pretzels

Electrolytes are important to our physical health, especially with an active lifestyle and warmer temperatures of summer coming up!