What, Exactly, Are Electrolytes?
  • March 31, 2015
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    ( This post is a part of a series sponsored by MESTRENGTH.)

    If you’re training for a marathon, triathlon, competition or just to be stronger athlete this summer, you’re going to be logging hours of training that will take you to a sweaty place. All of that lakefront running or those in-gym sweat sessions will require some refueling and rehydration, but you’re losing a lot more than water in those puddles on the gym’s floor.

    According to How Stuff Works, “when you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium.” Mixed in with the water you’re losing is a salty solution that keeps your body running. If you don’t ensure that you’re replacing those electrolytes, especially if you’re working out for an hour or longer, you may be shorting your body on some salts that it needs.

    asweatlife_What, exactly, is an electrolyte

    What exactly do sodium and potassium do in your body? Some pretty important stuff. Built Lean states that sodium is responsible for controlling the total amount of water in the body and potassium is the major cation (hey, high school chemistry) inside cells and is hugely important for regulating heartbeat and muscle function.

    But it’s more than just muscle function; it’s brain and nerve function too. How Stuff Works wrote that electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerves, heart and muscles) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses across themselves and to other cells. Translation: electrolytes help to send important messages in your body and ensure that important functions keep happening like your heart beating and your muscles contracting.

    Built Lean states that “an electrolyte imbalance, whether too much or too little, can be quite detrimental to your health. Muscle contraction, for example, requires calcium, potassium and sodium; deficiency may result in muscle weakness or severe cramping. Too much sodium, on the other hand, can cause high blood pressure and significantly increase your risk of heart disease.”

    Replacing electrolytes in the body becomes important for athletes who have worked out for more than an hour, especially if that exercise has taken place in a hotter temperature. If you’re a sweatier human being, as men tend to be (or if you’re a sweaty lady like I am), you need to be conscious of electrolyte imbalances.

    Replacing those electrolytes can be as simple as taking in a beverage with electrolytes like MESTRENGTH or eating a salty food like pretzels. It’s important to think about your own sweat loss levels during your workouts as well – if you’re really sweaty, experiencing a lot of cramping and don’t bounce back really quickly from your workout, take down some electrolytes in that water after that hour-long sweat session.

    How do you know how much liquid and electrolytes to replace post-workout? Your weight. If you’re diligent about your hydration, you should be weighing yourself pre- and post-workout and drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. But if you’re taking off for a run from your office, you may not have access to a scale immediately following your workout, so listen to your body and take in some additional electrolytes and fluids if you’re feeling lethargic or mentally drained post-workout.

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    About Jeana Anderson Cohen

    Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of aSweatLife.com a destination for living your best life, with fitness as the catalyst. She's also the co-founder and head of strategy of the SweatWorking App. But before starting health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the first decade of her career, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience and her passion for wellness and SweatWorking was the natural evolution of that experience. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, hosting aSweatLife’s monthly #Sweatworking events, and - on the rare evening off - you may find her using her Personal Training certification to coach group fitness classes across Chicago.