In case you didn’t notice, there are a lot of electrolyte water products appearing on the shelves at your local grocery store. If you’re an athlete or an active person, then you know electrolytes are good for you and that you need them. Yet, do you need an electrolyte drink? It depends.
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that support different processes in your body, such as fluid balance, maintaining your blood’s pH levels, and transferring electric signals from your nerves to your muscles. The five minerals considered electrolytes include sodium, chlorine, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
So, why all the fuss about electrolyte water, IV hydration therapy, or the abundance of electrolyte drinks available? Since May is National Physical Fitness Month, I decided to tell you why electrolytes are so important for proper hydration. Let’s start with the most basic information: What are electrolytes?
As I mentioned earlier, electrolytes are minerals your body needs. You might find it interesting to learn that once these minerals are dissolved into water, they form an electrical charge. These electrical charges facilitate muscle contractions, (including the heart), and support nerve impulses. This is one of the reasons why electrolytes are vital during exercise.
You get electrolytes in your food and what you drink. The body removes what it doesn’t need through your urine. You also lose electrolytes when you sweat. The average person loses 1 gram of sodium per one liter of sweat in an hour. In some cases, such as lengthy workouts, high-intensity training, or heated environments, sweat losses become much greater and cause excessive electrolyte imbalances, which could create an issue. Before I get into that, let’s go over the 5 common electrolytes and their function.
Sodium supports proper fluid balance in your cells and is used to absorb nutrients. It’s the most abundant electrolyte in your body. The suggested daily intake of sodium is 2,300 milligrams a day in a healthy diet. You likely get enough sodium in your diet. Keep in mind that the more you sweat, the more sodium your body loses.
Magnesium is another crucial electrolyte for your body. Magnesium supports muscle and nerve function and helps your body turn nutrients into energy. Your brain and muscles rely on magnesium. The suggested daily intake of magnesium is 400 to 420 mg for men and 310 and 320 mg for women.
Potassium and Sodium are used together in your cells to keep a balance. When a potassium ion enters a cell, a sodium ion leaves, and vice versa. Potassium is critical for your heart. It helps with muscle contraction and helps facilitates the movement of blood throughout your body. The suggested intake of potassium per day is 3,500 to 4,700 mg. One banana has 422 mg of potassium. You can have too much potassium in your blood stream, which can lead to heart problems. such as an irregular heart beat. The good news is that just as with sodium, your body loses potassium when you sweat.
Calcium does more than build strong teeth and bones. Its positive charge helps send signals between your nerves and muscles. Calcium also promotes muscle control and supports a healthy heart rhythm. You can have too much (hypercalcemia) and too little (hypocalcemia) that can cause a wide range of symptoms such as brain fog, muscle twitches, kidney stones, and frequent need to pee. It is suggested that you get 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For men over 71 and women over 50, it’s suggested that you get 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
The second most abundant electrolyte in your body is chloride, which is the chemical name for chlorine. Yes, the chemical they put in swimming pools to clean the water. Surprisingly enough, Chloride, an ion derived from chlorine, performs a similar job in your body.
Chloride helps the balance of fluids in your cells and maintain your body’s natural pH balance. The suggested daily amount of chloride is 2,300 mg per day.
Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl) come together to form table salt (NaCl). While this electrolyte is crucial, it is important to remember that too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. The good news is that when you exercise, your body removes salt when you sweat.
Signs Your Body is Low on Electrolytes
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times when you sweat your body loses electrolytes. You lose 2 to 5% of your body weight when you sweat. Don’t get too excited or overdo it this week at the gym. That’s water weight and will come right back on when you eat or drink water.
You also lose electrolytes when you are vomiting or have diarrhea. Other causes of an electrolyte imbalance include not eating or drinking enough, respiratory diseases, and medications such as laxatives and steroids.
Signs you have an electrolyte imbalance include:
- Muscle cramps
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
How to Properly Hydrate (and Stay Hydrated)
Your pee will tell you a lot about how hydrated you are. If it is clear or a pale yellow, you are adequately hydrated. If this sounds like you, you don’t need to drink electrolyte drinks regularly. Clear urine is a good indicator that you have balanced electrolytes.
If you are not active, the amount of water you should drink is half your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 190 pounds, then you should drink 95 ounces of water per day. Electrolyte drinks are not necessary if you aren’t active and drinking plenty of water each day. Your doctor might recommend you drink electrolyte drinks if you have digestive problems or Chrons disease.
If you are an active person, and by that I mean exercise 3 times or more per week, then you need more water to stay hydrated. This is where an electrolyte drink might come in handy.
Most athletes know that you should drink plenty of water before and after exercising. It’s just as important to drink enough water before you work out as it is after. Think of it as pregaming.
Drink an additional 20 ounces of water at least 2 hours before your next sweat session. While you work out, drink an additional 8 ounces every 15 minutes, or 32 ounces during an hour workout.
After exercise, you should aim to drink 150% of the weight you lost during exercise. Since there’s no definite measurement and you can’t always run to a scale after your workout, estimate how much sweat you lost and replenish it with water or electrolytes.
Here’s a handy breakdown:
- Before exercise: 20 ounces at least 2 hours before
- During exercise: 8 ounces every 15 minutes (32 ounces for 1 hour)
- After exercise: 16 to 24 ounces depending on how much you sweat.
How to Replenish Electrolytes
Keeping an electrolyte balance is fairly easy if you are drinking enough water. However, I understand that drinking water all the time isn’t an easy task for some. I even struggle with it. In those cases, coconut water is a good substitute because it’s low in sugar and tastes great.
Electrolytes or sports drinks are the quickest way to replenish electrolytes, but not always necessary. If you are drinking enough water or exercising for less than 75 minutes, water works just as well as sports drinks. If you are working out longer or sweating a lot, then an electrolyte drink might just do the trick. It’s important to pay attention to the amount of sugar in your electrolyte drink. Some brands have a high amount of sugar in them.
Food is also a good way to increase electrolyte levels. Some of the best foods for electrolytes include avocados, potatoes, oranges, bananas, strawberries, turkey, and spinach.
I’m not as good as I need to be about staying hydrated or drinking enough water throughout the day. I typically know when I need to replenish electrolytes because my muscles will cramp, I’ll feel lethargic, and crave water. The tried and true way to stay hydrated is drinking enough water. If you need a little more support, then find a sugar-free electrolyte drink.
If you want to learn more about how to adjust your diet to include more electrolytes in your diet or want to incorporate an exercise program that is functional for your needs and goals, schedule a free consultation and let me tell you how Very Well Wellness’ programs can put you on the path to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
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