When someone mentions electrolytes, you might have a general idea about what they do for you. But did you know that electrolytes are ESSENTIAL (with a capital E) to many important functions in the body?
From regulating your heartbeat and body’s fluid levels—to influencing brain function and muscle contractions—electrolytes are a pretty big deal. And if you’re a serious athlete or someone who works out a lot, their importance is only amplified.
Read on as we dive into the science of electrolytes. You’ll learn about what they are, who needs them, how you can naturally increase your electrolyte levels, and a lot more!
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are electrically charged ions that help maintain balanced fluid levels in your body (which is key to regulating blood pressure). They also play a crucial role in brain function, muscle contractions, and just helping your body perform the way it should.
Diving beyond the surface-level definition, our bodies rely on electrolytes to transport electric charges between cells. When this process gets compromised (i.e. when you’re running low on electrolytes), it messes with the signals your brain sends to your nerves for muscle contractions, regulating your heartbeat, and balancing fluids, among other things.
Running low on electrolytes can cause you to feel tired, worn down, and overall, just not like yourself. You may also experience headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness, or an irregular heartbeat. So in other words, low electrolyte levels can end up being no fun at all!
Who Needs Electrolytes?
The short answer is, well…Everyone.
When you sweat or pee (which is something we all do), the body doesn’t just lose water. It loses electrolytes too.
So while rehydrating still involves getting in some good old-fashioned H20, it’s also about restoring the salts and minerals you lose through sweat and urine (like sodium, magnesium, and potassium) to preserve fluid balance and pressure.
If you’re on a low-carb diet (such as paleo or keto), which makes retaining water and preserving a normal mineral balance harder, electrolytes can come in real handy.
Electrolytes are also super helpful when you get sick. Let’s just take the flu as an example (so cue the vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, and all the other symptoms that cause fluids to leave your body).
Sorry for that beautiful visual! But staying hydrated and refueling with electrolytes can help you feel better and put you on the path to recovery quicker.
What Are the Main Electrolytes Your Body Needs?
There are 6 main types of electrolytes. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are and their functions in the body:
- Sodium: Probably the most common type of electrolyte you’ll find in a typical diet. It’s key for how your body responds to thirst, nerve function, and maintaining fluid balance.
- Magnesium: Works to regulate your heartbeat, plays key roles in muscle and nerve function, and even influences blood sugar levels.
- Potassium: Critical to maintaining fluid balance, muscle and nerve function, as well as helping with blood pressure.
- Calcium: Important for strong bones and teeth. Also plays a role in muscle function and cell division.
- Phosphate: Crucial to the formation of bones and teeth, and contributes to the substances your body’s cells use for energy.
- Chloride: Key to maintaining fluid balance.
How Much Electrolytes Do You Need?
The truth is, the amount of electrolytes you’ll need really does depend. Do you spend a lot of time outside? Follow a super intense workout regiment? Work in an office environment without AC?
Since electrolytes are mainly lost through sweat, the main point here is that the more you sweat, the more you’ll need to replace.
Another major call out is that you lose more sodium than any other electrolyte when you sweat. That makes replenishing it all the more important.
How Do You Increase Your Electrolytes?
To increase your electrolytes, focus on incorporating more nutritious, whole foods into your diet.
Here’s a list of some electrolyte-boosting foods to get you started:
- Pickle juice
- Poultry (such as turkey or chicken)
- Fish like flounder or canned sardines
And then we have sweet potatoes, which deserve their own separate space because they may very well be the ultimate health and wellness hack! Not only are they a fantastic source of electrolytes but they’re loaded with a ton of other vitamins and minerals that promote good health.
Some of the more prominent benefits of sweet potatoes include:
- Fiber to keep you feeling fuller for longer, fight off hunger cravings, and stick to your weight loss goals.
- Potassium (which is you know, is an electrolyte) that’s important for nerve and muscle function (which includes preventing cramps or spasms).
- They provide your body with energy that replenishes your body’s glycogen stores and helps you recover better post-workout.
Wrapping Things up on Electrolytes
Remember—proper hydration is more than just getting enough water! It requires electrolytes too. At the end of the day, electrolytes help your body operate at peak mental and physical performance.
Since electrolytes are lost mainly when you sweat, it’s doubly important if you’re an athlete or someone who works out or sweats a lot to make sure you’re replacing the electrolytes you lose. One easy way to restore electrolytes is through your nutrition. Whole foods like spinach, kale, bananas, poultry, and fish are a few surefire ways to increase your electrolytes.
But let’s be honest, sitting down and preparing a meal or snack full of electrolytes might not be the most practical or convenient thing to do, especially if you’re in a rush or just want to get some electrolytes in you ASAP.
Our Hydrolyte+ satisfies all your electrolyte needs in one quick and easy drink mix. It comes in three refreshing flavors, each one jam-packed with sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and 72 other trace minerals to help you stay properly hydrated.
And at only 5 calories per serving (including 0g of sugar), you won’t have to break the calorie bank to get in some electrolytes!
About the Author:
Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH. When he’s not behind his computer, you’ll most likely find Chad getting his Arnold Schwarzenegger on at the gym or at home trying to find a new binge-worthy show on Netflix.