When you sweat, your body loses valuable minerals called electrolytes. Have you ever experienced severe cramping? If so, it's probably because your body does not have enough electrolytes.
Your body needs electrolytes to function properly. These minerals are vital for your heart, muscles, and nerves to operate.
You see athletes drinking sports drinks and water. Do you wonder why it's necessary to replenish electrolytes? If so, read this article.
This article will breakdown electrolytes and why you should replenish electrolytes.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are ions that carry energy to the body for functions such as muscle movement and nerve impulses. The body depends on these ions to function at optimal levels. Your blood carries the electrolytes to your various organs.
Think of electrolytes as oil in your car. The oil doesn't make the engine run, but it is vital to keep everything working smoothly.
Common electrolytes in your body are potassium, sodium, bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, and chloride.
Why Electrolytes are Important
If you have ever felt a cramp while working out, most likely your electrolytes need to be replenished. Your body is cramping because it is telling you it's on empty and needs more electrolytes.
Just like filling up your gas tank, you don't want to wait until you are empty to fill up. Replenishing your electrolytes keeps your body functioning properly without compromising any body function. You can damage your neurological and cardiac activity with a severe electrolyte imbalance.
Breakdown of Electrolytes
Here is a look at your body's electrolytes and what they do.
This is one of the most important electrolytes. Sodium helps your body manage fluid balance.
If you have low levels of sodium, you will most likely experience muscles cramps. Sweat loses sodium more than any other mineral.
It's important to intake sodium before and after workouts. You don't want too much sodium because then the fluid will build-up and can cause other issues.
Potassium works with sodium to keep your muscles working smoothly. It helps prevent muscle cramps.
Potassium is abundant in many food sources such as fruits and natural drinks like coconut water.
Calcium is famous for bone and muscle health - but it is also vital to muscle function including your heart. It is the most plentiful mineral in your body and regulates muscle contractions and heartbeat.
A low level of bicarbonates can lead to fatigue and affect your endurance. Sodium bicarbonate controls the lactic acid in the blood. If lactic acid builds up, it can obstruct your muscle contractions leading to fatigue.
Sodium bicarbonate lowers this fatigue, so it can actually increase your endurance.
Magnesium works alongside calcium like sodium and potassium. Calcium aids muscle contractions while magnesium helps muscles relax. This is why you need the perfect balance of both electrolytes for your muscles.
Magnesium also helps your body metabolize glucose.
Maintaining an Electrolyte Balance
When you sweat, you lose essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you will lose even more of these vital minerals.
You can replenish these lost minerals with a well-balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, water, and salt. If you exercise regularly, you should check out drinks that are rich in minerals such as potassium and sodium. Coconut water is a natural drink high in potassium and has fewer calories than sports drinks.
If you combine fluids and electrolytes, you can hydrate faster because water will follow the electrolytes. Also, if you intake sodium, it will reduce water in urination so your body can absorb more fluids in the nerves and muscles easily.
How Much Do I Need?
The answer is it depends. There are several different factors that affect electrolyte loss including activity level, duration of exercise, and the environment.
If your body is working harder, your body will need to cool down the elevated body temperature by sweating. If you workout for longer periods of times, your body will be sweating longer, releasing more electrolytes.
Your daily requirements for minerals also vary based on your age and gender.
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that sodium intake should be no more than 2,300 mg for both males and females. Athletes should look for electrolyte-rich drinks to recover sodium stores.
Males and females should intake 3,500 - 4,700 mg of potassium daily. Several foods are rich in potassium, so you should make sure you eat a healthy diet.
Females should get about 310-320 mg of magnesium daily, and males should intake about 400 - 420 mg.
Several foods are high in calcium, and both males and females should get about 1,000 mg daily.
Foods with High Electrolytes
As mentioned above, you should eat a healthy diet to maintain electrolyte balance. Along with drinking electrolyte-rich drinks while working out, you should add the following to your diet.
Fruits and vegetables are full of electrolytes including:
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
Choose organic and local fruits and vegetables for the most nutritional value. Bananas are extremely rich in potassium and other electrolytes and can help cramping.
As you probably guessed, eating salty foods can be good to replace sodium. It is important to pick healthier salty foods such as:
- Canned fish
- Whole wheat bread
These foods are seasoned with sodium-chloride to help you replace both of these electrolytes.
Most nuts and seeds contain high levels of electrolytes. You want to choose seeds and nuts that are not processed for best results. Examples of some good seeds and nuts include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, beet greens, and chard are high in minerals like potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium. These greens are a great source to get your daily recommended value of minerals.
You should also consider adding dairy to your diet because it is high in calcium.
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