I find that most people know iit is important to replace electrolytes in the body during and after exercise, especially for high-intensity workouts or endurance events.
However, many don’t really understand what electrolytes are or how to replenish them.
In fact, the balance of electrolytes in the body is critical for optimum function of all of our cells, tissues, and organs.
Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in the body.
The top three electrolytes found in the highest concentration are sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Other key electrolytes in the body include calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonate.
Your body uses electrolytes to help with nerve and muscle function. Both of these functions are obviously essential for any type of exercise, especially sports training and performance.
Electrolytes are found in the blood, urine, and other bodily fluids (both within the cells and surrounding the cells). They help to regulate the acid-alkaline balance as well as fluid balance in the body.
For example, to adjust fluid levels, the body can move electrolytes in or out of cells. If the electrolyte concentration is low, the body will move fluids out of that area.
If the concentration is high, it will direct more fluid to that area. The kidneys also play an important role in maintaining electrolyte balance.
The body loses electrolytes (especially sodium) during exercise primarily through sweating. The most important electrolytes lost during intense exercise and endurance activities are sodium and potassium.
When electrolytes are low in your body, muscle and nerve function will be impaired. Or you might start to feel dizzy or nauseous.
In mild cases of electrolyte loss, you may not “feel” any symptoms at all, but the imbalance will still affect your performance and recovery.
You may think you just had a “bad workout” or did not “get enough rest.”
In addition, having low electrolytes will cause a much slower repair of muscles and tissues.
In extreme cases of electrolyte loss, such as when running a marathon in hot weather without proper hydration and electrolyte replenishment, one may develop water intoxication or hyponatremia.
Even though these conditions are rare, they are serious and can lead to severe headaches, seizures, coma, even death. A medical professional should always be consulted with severe symptoms.
The need for fluid and electrolyte replacement depends on many factors, including (but not limited to) exercise duration and intensity, outdoor and/or indoor temperature, and the rate at which you lose water and electrolytes.
The following are general recommendations for replenishing electrolytes in the body lost as a result of exercise:
Note: Elite athletes will need to refine these guidelines and become a scientist in his/her own body.
Coaches, trainers or nutritionists who specialize in your sport can help you develop an individualized hydration and electrolyte replacement program based on keen observation and testing.
Return from Electrolytes in the Body to Proper Hydration for Sports and Fitness