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What You Need to Know About Electrolytes

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You’ve probably seen or heard the word “electrolytes” just about everywhere. Those Gatorade commercials you’re always seeing on TV? Electrolytes. The Mio Sport commercials that are little fewer and farther between? Electrolytes. And what about the Powerade commercials? Yes. Electrolytes.

Sports drinks contain electrolytes. But what exactly are electrolytes, and why are they so important to athletes, fitness fans, and, well, everyone else?

Electrolytes 101: What & Why

The most common electrolytes in your body are magnesium, calcium, potassium, chloride, and sodium, and they’re needed by your body to properly perform a number of muscle, heart, and nervous system functions.

An electrolyte conducts nerve impulses, which your body needs to make the cells in your muscles contract. For an electric impulse to occur, electrical voltage has to be maintained across a cell membrane. This is why healthy and stable electrolyte levels are so important.

Whenever you eat, the foods and liquids you ingest all contain mineral salts like the ones mentioned above. Electrolytes are formed when these salts mix with the fluids inside your body, and every time you sweat, you’re losing these salts (electrolytes). As a result, they need to replenished, and that’s why you see many athletes reaching for sports drinks before, during, and after workouts or competitions.

Electrolyte Balancing Acts

Because your body is a machine, it’s constantly trying to keep your electrolyte levels balanced with your water levels. There are a few different ways it does this:

  • When your sodium levels are low, your kidneys work to create more urine. This lowers the amount of water in your bloodstream and restores the balance of sodium in your body.
  • If your sodium levels get to be too high, your body induces thirst and you drink water. There’s also a chemical released by your brain that tells your kidneys to produce lesser amounts of urine. These things help balance out your sodium levels.

Can Imbalances Occur?

They absolutely can, and many people don’t realize just how common electrolyte imbalances can be. Potassium and sodium are specifically the most common, but any electrolyte imbalance can lead to health issues if it gets bad enough.

Some of the most common conditions include hyponatremia (a result of low sodium levels), hypernatremia (a result of high sodium levels), hypokalemia (a result of low potassium levels), and hyperkalemia (a result of high potassium levels). If these conditions get severe enough, they can cause paralysis or death.

In some cases, imbalances can be indicative of other health troubles, including poor renal function, which can be indicated by low levels of sodium and chloride, and dehydration, which can be indicated by high levels of sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Be aware that workouts and sweating aren’t the only factors that may contribute to electrolyte imbalances. Illness and medications may contribute as well (Source).

If you think you’ve been doing a good job at keeping your body’s electrolytes balances, but you want to be extra cautious, you can request an electrolyte panel. This is done via a simple blood test that measures the levels of electrolytes in your blood, with specific attention given to sodium and potassium levels.

Keeping Your Electrolytes Balanced

For many athletes and active people, the go-to source for electrolytes is a sports drink of some kind. Gatorade and Powerade are perhaps the most popular brands, but these types of drinks aren’t always the most healthy.

Gatorade (which I used to absolutely love) contains ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, sucrose syrup, and red 40–all of which are less than desirable for optimal health. Powerade is packed full of sugar and one bottle can contain as many as 300 calories.

FitDay lists the following as sports drinks that should be avoided:

  • Powerade
  • Glaceau VitaminWater
  • Gatorade

So, how does one replenish electrolytes without popular sports drinks? Simply by eating a healthy meal. Many different fruits and vegetables can supply your body with a healthy load of electrolytes, including the following:

  • Tomatoes and avocados
  • Bananas and watermelons
  • Apples and pineapples
  • Oranges and spinach

If sports drinks are your thing, that’s fine. But if you’re an athlete, why not give your body something healthy instead?

My favorite way to re-hydrate and balance electrolytes is to use Vega’s new line of electrolyte hydrators. They’re natural, healthy, and they taste great. Check them out below:

If these products interest you, check out Vega’s video that talks about them:

http://youtu.be/vKjRZVwYwvA

What are your favorite ways to balance your body’s electrolytes? Do you use sports drinks or another method? Share with us by leaving a comment below!

Featured Image Credit: Vega Sport.

 

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