If you can think back to your little league days, you might recall your coach preaching the importance of electrolyte replenishment. It remains the M.O. of every sports drink on the market. But for many of us, we don’t understand why we need to replace electrolytes lost during physical exertion.
What Are Electrolytes?
Before we get into the importance of electrolytes, let’s first discuss what electrolytes are and what they do.
Electrolytes are minerals, or salts (i.e. calcium, potassium, magnesium), with an electric charge. These chemicals conduct electricity when dissolved in water.
- Calcium: helps with muscle contractions, nerve signaling, blood clotting, cell division, and forming/maintaining bones and teeth
- Potassium: helps keep blood pressure levels stable, regulates heart contractions and helps with muscle functions
- Magnesium: also helps with muscle contractions, proper heart rhythms, nerve function, bone-building and strength, reduces anxiety, improves digestion, and maintains a stable protein-fluid balance
- Sodium: helps maintain fluid balance, helps with muscle contractions and helps with nerve signaling
- Chloride: also helps maintain fluid balance
What Happens to Your Body Without Electrolytes?
Your body’s cells rely on the movement of electrolytes. According to the American Chemical Society’s video,"our cells would shrivel up and die, or burst from being too full," without electrolytes. They ensure that your heart keeps beating, your lungs are breathing, and your brain is learning.
Now that you understand what electrolytes are and what they do, you might be left wondering how the body uses them. Electrolytes are deposited into sweat glands during physical activities. Through osmosis, the water follows the electrolytes and releases the salty mix onto your skin as the glands fill. The sweat lowers your body temperature and leaves the salty residue as it evaporates.
Where do You Get Electrolytes?
Now that we know what electrolytes are, let’s figure out where you can get them. There are many sources of electrolytes. But the following ten examples are great for restoring electrolytes and rehydration since they are dense in water:
- Coconut water
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruit
- Cultured dairy (amasai, kefir, yogurt)
Do I Need to Drink a Sports Drink to Replenish Electrolytes?
For most gym rats, yogis, and weekend warriors, a normal diet most likely provides and replenishes all the electrolytes you lose during a workout. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, are loaded with extra sugar that nullify any calories you just burned.
If you’re working out for an hour or less, your water and normal diet provide enough electrolytes. If you’re training for a marathon or working out for multiple hours, you may consider a more electrolyte-dense beverage such as a sports drink.
Does Water Contain Electrolytes?
No, water does not contain electrolytes. But if hydration is your biggest concern, there’s no better option than plain old H2O. Unless you’re a professional athlete or running a marathon, your normal diet will provide enough electrolytes lost from sweat.
Just make sure that you drink enough water each day. Most people don’t realize how much water they lose through sweat each day.
From maintaining bone health to assisting with muscle contraction, electrolytes play many important roles within a body. Although they come in many forms found in many foods don’t overlook the importance of these minerals.
What’s your favorite source of electrolytes?