Growing up as an athlete of sorts I always heard a lot about how I need to replenish my electrolytes. Electrolytes seemed like the key to success and to being the next Mia Hamm.
But recently I’ve started to try to eat foods that are actually healthy, not just masked in healthy packaging, and I had to wonder … do we really need electrolytes?
The simple answer: Yes. We weren’t chugging down Lemon Lime Gatorade at track practice for nothing.
What they are:
Electrolytes are minerals in our blood and bodily fluids that carry an electric charge. This electric charge comes from minerals from consumed in our every day diet (mostly salts) breaking apart into separate ions and making one positive side and one negative side. There are several common electrolytes that each service an important role, but work together to maintain the balance of fluids within the cells of your body.
What they do:
Just like how a battery has a negative and positive side, these electrolytes charge up and do a lot to maintain a healthy balance in our bodies. The balance is importance for things like hydration, muscle function and pH level; already making it clear why athletes pay a special interest to them. If you are insufficient in sodium, potassium or calcium, muscle cramping or weakness can occur when the electrolytes associated with those nutrients aren’t present. If you have ever suffered a cramp mid-workout, you understand how important electrolytes are. This is why there are often bananas at the conclusion of a race, and Gatorade at hydration stands throughout.
How you lose them:
Our bodies are normally great at balancing our electrolytes, but when we exercise a lot of electrolytes are lost in our sweat – plain and simple. We mostly lose sodium electrolytes in our salty sweat, but it is important to know that others, such as potassium and calcium are lost as well. Be mindful of the temperature or type of workout that you do, and keep in mind how much you will sweat (for me, it is always a lot!) and be prepared with appropriate nutrition to re-boot afterwards.
How to replace them:
Easy peasy! Drink fluids that contain electrolytes when you exercise. Especially on hot, humid days when you really have the sweats, make sure to grab a sports drink with sufficient sodium. I’m not a huge Gatorade person, but I still mix some in with my water after a long run to better hydrate my body. Go for that post-run banana, piece of bread or salty snack at the finish line, your body needs it!
Though electrolytes may seem like a word everyone says but no one knows about, they do have an important impact on your athletic performance. Make sure to refuel to always be at your best!