I hope you guys had a great weekend and enjoyed some nice weather. And happy belated Mother’s Day to all of you mom’s out there – I hope you received some all-star treatment.
I have more of a scienc-y post for you today and I’m linking up with Jill for a life of Fitness, Health and Happiness. We’ve had some really hot and sunny weather here to the point where I don’t feel hydrated no matter how much water I’m drinking. Many of us exercise outdoors (heyoo runners) and as the weather warms up, I thought it would be helpful to talk not only about the importance of hydration, but the importance of adding in electrolytes as well.
Especially when we are exercising more vigorously and sweating more (or even sweating more in the sun), we are at a higher risk of losing more electrolytes. Linking up with Hoho Runs and Trish for the Weekly Wrap today!
When we sweat, we lose more than just water – we also lose electrolytes, mainly sodium and chloride, and to a lesser extent, magnesium, calcium and potassium. It’s vital to replenish these electrolytes to help our body restore its equilibrium. After high intensity exercise, or exercise over a long duration, drinking only water is not effective for re-hydration. For our body to actually retain the water and be able to use it, it must be consumed with electrolytes.
What are electrolytes and why are they important?
Electrolytes are minerals found in our blood, urine and body fluids. They produce electrically conducted solutions when dissolved in liquid. Electrolytes are essential for life and have many roles, such as:
- Regulating nerve and muscle function
- Regulating blood pressure
- Regulating pH
- Maintaining fluid balance inside and outside of our cells
Unbalanced electrolyte levels are very dangerous, as I will touch upon below. They can lead to weak (or severe) muscle contraction and spasms, irregular heartbeats, bone disorders, twitching, seizures, nervous system disorders, blood pressure changes, and obviously, fatigue and lethargy – so obviously you can see why having balanced proportions of these minerals is essential!
The 4 common electrolytes and where you can find them
Sodium is a primary regulator of our fluid balance. When sodium builds up and our kidneys can’t get rid of the excess, this can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for a myriad of other health conditions. Conversely, if we don’t have enough salt in our diets (or we lose excess through sweat), water is drawn out of our cells, which may lead to low blood pressure and/or dehydration.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the average American gets more sodium in their diet than needed. The American Heart association recommends 1500 mg/day (just under 3/4 tsp). The CDC reported that 90% of children eat more sodium than recommended, and 1/6 children has high blood pressure. Sodium is hidden in packaged foods, soups, breads, cheese, and mixed dishes – this accounts for 75% of the sodium we eat!
I’m not telling you to load up on the packaged foods, but getting enough sodium when you’re exercising intensely or sweating a lot is important. Many of the gel’s and gu’s have sodium and some electrolytes in them. My personal favorites are the Huma gels (all natural) and of course, NUUN tabs. I have one every day, regardless of exercise. It’s a pretty good habit to get into, especially leading into the warmer weather.
Unlike sodium, which is an extracellular electrolyte (outside of the cell), potassium is an intracellular electrolyte, primarily found within the cell. The recommended amount (RDA) is 4700 mg/day. Having too little or too high levels of potassium (hypo/hyperkalemia) can lead to muscle weakness, cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms. Most Americans overeat on sodium and undereat on potassium, so including lots of fruits and vegetables is an excellent addition to any lifestyle.
Good sources of potassium are bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans, winter squash, avocado, and leafy green vegetables.
Calcium is probably most known for its role in bone building and preventing osteoporosis, but it also has many other purposes. It helps the muscles contact (important for exercise), helps promote growth, helps blood clotting and helps with hormones. Calcium also keeps our hearts beating, among other functions.
Our bones have stores of calcium so if our blood levels get too low, our bones release calcium to normalize the levels. However, if our levels of calcium get too high, it can cause hardening of arteries and other bone structures, and even kidney stones. The RDA for calcium is 1000-1200 mg/day.
For the best sources of calcium, eat dairy, soy, greens, and canned fish with bones. You can also get a good chunk of calcium in chia seeds! And don’t forget – Vitamin D helps promote the uptake and absorption of calcium! 1 cup of Unsweetened Almond milk has 45% of your RDA of calcium, while 1 cup of low fat cow’s milk has 30% (Note: this may vary by brand).
Magnesium is an intracellular electrolyte that probably deserves more credit than it receives. It helps the body use energy and is necessary for proper nerve, muscle and enzyme function – it’s involved in hundreds of reactions in our bodies and even helps regulate other minerals (i.e. calcium, potassium, zinc, copper). The RDA for adults is 310-420 mg/day. Magnesium helps the muscles relax (after calcium helps them contract) and is such promoted for relaxation of the body and bowels (it’s a main ingredient in laxatives).
Hypomagnesia (usually from poor diet, malnutrition, diuretics) may cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, loss of appetite, muscle spasms and seizures. Hypermagnesia, on the other hand, is more rare, and is more related to kidney diseases, hypothyroidism, or excessive intake through supplements.
Get your magnesium through leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, nuts and fortified cereals.
How do our bodies keep electrolyte levels balanced?
Our bodies are super smart. Under normal conditions, our kidneys will filter out any excess levels of electrolytes.
However, if we fall out of balance or don’t consume necessary levels of electrolytes, we may experience consequences. The most serious being hypernatremia (too much sodium) or hyponatremia (too little sodium), hyperkalemia (excessive potassium) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels).
The good news is many foods like leafy greens, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables, provide multiple minerals and electrolytes, stressing the importance of consuming those on a regular basis. This is one reason why if you’re active, it’s so important to have a varied diet.
To stay safe, replace fluids and electrolytes when you’re exercising even if you’re not thirsty – by the time you realize you’re thirsty, it’s often too late and dehydration has already struck. It’s recommended that if exercising for an hour, one should consume a minimum of 20 to 40 fluid ounces per hour. You should replace lost electrolytes at a rate of 200 to 500 mg per hour if hydrating at the recommended rate.
Just make sure to add in electrolytes for those longer runs and workouts to ensure the water can be efficiently used in your cells. Remember, your performance will suffer without adequate electrolyte levels!
Do you have any favorite ways to replace electrolytes?
Have you ever experienced dehydration?