When it’s this hot outside, we tend to sweat more. Because we’re sweating more, we need to talk about keeping our bodies hydrated. And when we begin a discussion about hydration, the topic of electrolytes tends to make an appearance! These charged essential minerals occur naturally in a variety of foods, but we often need more than we realize to stay healthy. Let’s talk about what electrolytes are, when you need more of them, tips on how to get more into your system, and some common myths we should dispel.
What are electrolytes anyway?
Electrolytes are essential minerals that carry an electric charge and play a crucial role in various physiological functions within the body. They are dissolved in bodily fluids like blood, sweat, and urine, and their balance is essential for maintaining proper cell function, fluid balance, and overall health. Here are the major electrolytes in the body.
Sodium: Sodium is essential for maintaining fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. It also helps regulate blood pressure. It’s found in table salt and other processed foods.
Potassium: Potassium works with sodium to help maintain nerve transmission and regulate water distribution and blood pressure. Fruits (especially bananas and oranges) are excellent sources of potassium, but it’s also in vegetables, beans, and dairy products.
Calcium: Calcium is famous for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It’s also involved in muscle contractions, blood clotting, and nerve transmission. Dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods are good sources of calcium.
Magnesium: Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function, energy production, and maintaining a steady heart rhythm. It’s also a key to healthy sleep. Whole grains, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and legumes have magnesium, and many people like to take it as a supplement.
Chloride: Chloride is closely related to sodium and plays a role in maintaining fluid balance and the body’s acid-base balance.
Phosphate: Phosphate is essential for bone health, energy production, and DNA synthesis. It’s found in meat, dairy, and whole grains, to name a few food groups.
When do you need them?
Some signs of an electrolyte imbalance are muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, and irregular heartbeats, but you may experience none of these symptoms while your body silently craves electrolytes. Here are eight situations when your body may require extra electrolytes to help maintain fluid balance and support critical physiological functions.
Intense Physical Activity: Completing that heart-pumping workout class or hot outdoor run feels good, but make sure to replace the electrolytes that leave in your sweat. Replenishing electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) will get you rehydrated faster and help stave off pesky muscle cramps.
Sweating Profusely: Hitting the sauna, steam room, or a hotter-than-Hades yoga class? Before, during, and after are all good times to get ahead of the inevitable electrolyte loss.
Hot and Humid Weather: We sweat more in hot and humid conditions to regulate body temperature. Increasing your electrolyte intake to prevent dehydration during the summer is more essential than ever.
Illness and Fever: When you’re sick, especially if you have a fever or stomach issues, you can lose electrolytes rapidly. Rehydration solutions like oral rehydration salts (ORS) are vital in replacing lost fluids and electrolytes.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased nutrient needs, and electrolytes are part of that. Up your electrolytes to support the health of mom and baby.
High-Altitude Environments: Nothing beats that Rocky Mountain High … until you get sick or lightheaded. Increased respiration and fluid loss due to lower humidity can lead to more significant electrolyte losses, so get ahead of it if you’re heading upward. This includes long flights!
Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol has a diuretic effect, leading to electrolyte imbalances and increased fluid loss — another reason people are drinking less. Rehydrating with electrolyte-rich fluids during and after imbibing can help mitigate these effects.
Certain Medical Conditions and Medications: If you have a medical condition (this includes kidney disorders and certain gastrointestinal conditions), ask your doctor how medications can affect electrolyte levels.
What are the best ways to incorporate them into your system?
Water is always essential for staying hydrated, but if you’re losing fluids through sweat, replacing water and electrolytes is crucial. Here are some simple drinkable and edible options that effectively replenish electrolytes.
Sports Drinks: These are formulated with a balance of electrolytes (typically, the big three: sodium, potassium, and chloride) and carbohydrates to help replenish what’s lost during physical activity, illness, or simply doing anything during summer. We love woman-run and Atlanta-based BioLyte.
Coconut Water: A natural source of potassium and sodium, coconut water can be a good alternative to commercial sports drinks.
Electrolyte Tablets, Drops, and Powders: Just add these to water to create an electrolyte-rich hydration solution. We love LMNT powders, Nuun tablets, and Buoy’s unflavored drops that you can easily add to water, coffee, smoothies, and more!
Nutrient-Dense Foods: Some electrolyte-rich foods you can add to your diet are fruits for their potassium (bananas, oranges, watermelon, kiwi, etc.), veggies for things like potassium and magnesium (spinach, kale, broccoli, avocados, etc.), dairy or dairy alternatives for calcium and some potassium, and nuts/seeds for their magnesium and other nutrients (almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc).
5 Electrolyte Myths, BUSTED
MYTH: All Electrolyte Drinks Are Created Equal: We discussed this in the previous section. However, many commercial drinks on grocery and convenience store shelves can be high in added sugars and artificial additives. Read your labels and pick drinks with balanced electrolyte profiles and minimal added sugars.
MYTH: Only athletes need to worry about electrolytes: Electrolytes are important for everyone, not just athletes. Give your system some extra electrolytes to stay healthy during hot and sick days. They are critical in bodily functions like nerve signaling, muscle contractions, and fluid balance.
MYTH: Electrolyte drinks are always better than water: While electrolyte drinks are crucial during and after intense physical activity or sweaty situations, they are not substitutes for good ol’ fashion water. For regular, daily hydration, water is generally the best choice. Reserve electrolyte drinks for specific circumstances.
MYTH: You need to consume electrolyte drinks daily: Reach for that electrolyte drink during the abovementioned times. When you’re not engaged in depleting activities, drinking too many of these drinks can lead to excess sugar and calorie intake. Water and electrolyte-rich foods are all you need for sufficient daily hydration.
MYTH: Drinking saltwater can help replenish electrolytes: Salt water is having a TikTok moment, but it is not always a safe or effective way to replenish electrolytes. Consuming too much salt can lead to dehydration and actually throw off your electrolyte balance. Stick to balanced sources of electrolytes from foods and professionally made formulas.
Stay hydrated, everyone!
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