Whether you’re watching Monday night football, talking to a pal at the gym, or walking through the corner store, ads for sports drinks with electrolytes are everywhere. You know they’re important, you know they do something good in the body, and you probably know that people who are active or participate in sports need electrolytes more than someone who’s sedentary. However, as an active individual, it’s crucial to be able to recognize electrolyte imbalance symptoms and what to do if you think you have an imbalance, because your health depends on it.
What Are Electrolytes
Electrolytes are negatively and positively charged ions. While they don’t make your body run, they do improve the smoothness and efficiency at which your body runs. They are minerals and vitamins that conduct electrical activity in the body so that we can perform mechanical functions, such as muscle contraction and relaxation, which are a part of daily and athletic functions. Electrolytes hang out in water and are controlled by the kidneys. When we get hot, and have to sweat, we lose sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-), in addition to Potassium (K+), Magnesium (Mg2+), and Calcium (Ca2+).
These electrically-charged minerals not only help with hydration, but they help the nervous system to function at its highest ability, including the heart (which is also a muscle). Without electrolytes, the heart is not able to do it’s job, which is relax and contract. In short, the body just doesn’t function well without electrolytes and when these electrolytes become too imbalanced, whether too high or too low, you can experience both short-term and long-term health consequences.
Fluid Loss and Performance
When the human body gets hot, the nervous system needs to regulate the temperature change, which encourages the body to begin to sweat. When our bodies perspire, we deplete our body’s water levels, and with the loss of water, comes the reduction of important things in water, such as electrolytes.
An electrolyte imbalance can lead to some pretty serious consequences if not monitored and taken seriously. I get it, hydration isn’t always on the forefront of our thoughts throughout the day. And often, it’s not until we’re getting pummeled in a workout or waking up in the middle of the night that we’re craving something to quench our thirst.
To put this into perspective, with just a 1-2% reduction in body weight from fluid loss alone, performance takes a dive and perceived exertion goes down. In a typical workout, you can lose anywhere from 2-6% of your body’s water weight just by sweating. The loss of water and electrolytes, coupled with not replenishing them, effects recovery times, oxygen levels, and nutrient deliveries contributing to muscle wasting and a poor removal of waste from the blood stream.
Who Needs Electrolytes
Every human body needs electrolytes, but some more than others. If you’re an endurance athlete, who trains more than an hour a day, in order to avoid dehydration, cramps, and unnecessary muscle wasting/breakdown, you’re going to need more electrolytes than the average person. If you’re a power athlete, you’re going to need more electrolyte replenishment because heavy lifting takes a toll on the central nervous system. If you’re a bodybuilder, it’s important to be aware of sodium intake, but to not cut sodium until right before your show so that you can maintain a healthy function and overall athletic performance during training sessions.
Aside from athletes, a couple other important categories include people who are following a ketogenic diet (keto) because you’re depriving the body of carbohydrates, which binds to water, meaning your body isn’t going to store water well and you’ll have to regularly replenish water and electrolytes. If you’re a chronic drinker, alcohol is a diuretic, which can cause dehydration and a serious loss of electrolytes (this is what causes hangovers). And lastly, if you’re sick, your body will rapidly use and lose electrolytes to help with fighting off that infection/illness.
Symptoms Of Electrolyte Imbalance
It’s easy to feel out of synch when your body has too many or too little of electrolytes. Without them your body suffers. With too many electrolytes, your body can also suffer. How electrolyte imbalance affects your health depends on which electrolytes are missing and if the levels of them are too high or too low.
For example, chronically low magnesium (and high or low potassium) can lead to heart arrhythmia in individuals who have heart complications. Chronically low potassium levels can weaken bones, leading to osteoporosis, especially in women. Athlete’s who don’t replenish electrolytes like sodium and chloride can experience debilitating muscle cramps and prolonged muscle soreness.
10 Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include
- Muscle Weakness
- Muscle Cramps
- Changes In Blood Pressure
- Joint Stiffness
- Muscle Spasms
- Not Producing Sweat
Serious electrolyte imbalance symptoms may require immediate medical attention and need to be addressed seriously by calling 911. These include:
- Rapid Heart Rate
If you have proper electrolyte balance, electrolyte replenishment, a good diet, and regular hydration, you may want to consult a physician regarding a potential underlying issue.
How To Fix An Electrolyte Imbalance With Natural Electrolyte Boosters
Popular sports drinks and powders may contain electrolytes to replenish the body with after arduous activity, however, a lot of these include unnecessary ingredients and refined sugars. Here are a few amore naturally occurring electrolyte boosters to help with replenishment:
For those who sweat, and sweat often, sodium is going to be the electrolyte that is lost the most. The electrolytes found in salt that can prevent the symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Any salt will do, however, we do recommend using Himalayan or Celtic sea salts because they’re less processed. Before you go buy a sodium pre-packaged supplement, save your money and just put a pinch of salt on your food and in your water.
Naturally low in sugar, coconut water boost the electrolyte potassium along with a few other nutrients to boot. Harmless Harvest (the pink one) is one of the most pure coconut waters that you can get because it’s not cooked or boiled, however, just about any coconut water will do if you’re looking to replenish electrolytes. Opt for one that has minimal ingredients, and if you ever get a chance, crack open a fresh coconut and get the real thing from the source!
Another natural electrolyte booster are lemons and compared to other citrus fruits, they’re the best source for calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Additionally, lemon gives the body a little vitamin C boost and they can give some delicious flavor to water.
Believe it or not, green vegetables are a natural electrolyte booster, especially when you eat vegetables that are rich in nutrients such as beet greens, bok choy, and kale. The electrolytes present are magnesium, potassium, and calcium, not including all of their other benefits that they bring to the body.
Fruit is another compliment for the human body as a natural electrolyte booster, however, fruits are higher in sugars so you can’t use fruit as your only source of electrolytes. Think fruits like bananas, watermelon, and coconut.
The nice part about dairy is that it has a lot of calcium, which people need, especially athletes, to support function, performance, and strong bones. Yogurt specifically is a great way to get both calcium and probiotics.
Fortified Electrolyte Water
You can also get electrolytes from supplements and we recommend a powder that has sodium and potassium. You may want to consider a BCAA powder that has electrolytes added into it so that you can get hydrated, prevent unnecessary muscle mass breakdown, and electrolyte imbalance.
Electrolyte Imbalance: Takeaway
Electrolyte imbalances are preventable. Anyone, whether you're an athlete or active gym goer, should be accounting for proper electrolyte replenishment to ensure adequate hydration and performance. Natural electrolyte boosters such as coconut, water, lemons, and sea salt can replenish electrolytes and maximize hydration to correct for any electrolyte imbalances before they happen.
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