You've been working all day and head to the gym after work.
You've been drinking water
and eating right... But something doesn't feel right sometimes.
You know it's not the shady microwave burrito you chose to eat for breakfast, but you don't know what it is.
Maybe you're feeling sluggish or maybe a little dizzy... What is it?
Related - Sodium Requirements for Athletes
Electrolytes are chemicals in our bodies that form ions in our bodily fluids. These make sure that our bodies perform its duties optimally.
Ever cramp up during a workout and not know why? Having too few electrolytes in your body will cause you to cramp up.
Keeping hydrated and supplying the needed amount of electrolytes is important for anyone, especially athletes. Replenishing calories and fluids simply isn't enough; you need to consistently provide your body an adequate amount of electrolytes.
You can think of them like your car's engine oil. It doesn't really make the engine run, but it's needed to make everything run smoothly. Let's dive a little deeper into what electrolytes are, why you need them, and how you should properly replenish them.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes form electrically charged particles that carry electrical energy necessary for many bodily functions. This includes muscle contractions and the transmission of nerve impulses.
In fact, a small list of functions that electrolytes control are:
- Temperature control
- Respiratory rate
- Renal function
- Neurological function
- Thoughts and memory
- Glucose metabolism
- Energy production
The minerals that electrolytes are comprised of include:
Many people neglect properly replenishing electrolytes because they've never cramped or had other signs of an electrolyte imbalance. If you've never had to deal with debilitating cramps, consider yourself lucky. Cramping is your body telling you that you are too low on electrolytes.
Electrolytes aren't like gas in our car, we need to keep a healthy balance and not run on empty.
Why Do I Need Electrolytes?
Believe it or not, that drink with electrolytes isn't going towards your deficiency in the moment. Our bodies are able to replace about one-third of what we lose when we exercise. This is why replenishing your electrolytes regularly is necessary.
Staying hydrated is important, although drinking too much water can cause water intoxication.
Electrolytes are vital to our cellular function and they are especially needed for high performance.
Causes of an Electrolyte Imbalance
There are many things that can cause an imbalance in your body. Short-term illness, dehydration, underlying chronic disorders, and even medications can cause an imbalance.
While most of the common causes of electrolyte imbalances come from fluid loss, here's a list of some situations that can cause an imbalance:
- Being sick with vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, or high fever
- Digestive issues making absorbing nutrients from food troublesome
- Hormonal imbalances and endocrine disorders
- A poor diet
- Taking medications treating cancer, heart disease, or hormonal disorders
- Taking any antibiotics, diuretics, or corticosteroid hormones
- Kidney disease or damage
- Chemotherapy treatments
Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance
Depending on the type of electrolytes you are depleted of, you will notice a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Muscle aches, spasms, twitches, weakness, and cramping
- Feeling very thirsty
- Frequent headaches
- Heart palpitations
- Confusion or trouble concentrating
- Digestive issues
- Joint pain
- Blood pressure changes
- Change in appetite or body weight
- Dizziness when standing up suddenly
If you notice symptoms that consistently come back, go to your doctor for some tests.
Your healthcare provider will go over your medical history and take a urine and blood test to pinpoint what's going on.
If you have a severe imbalance, an EKG, ultrasound, or X-rays of your kidneys will need to be done.
How Do I Properly Replenish My Electrolytes?
Replenishing your electrolytes should be considered throughout the day, not only after training.
We burn off and use electrolytes all day. Having a physically intense job just adds to how much you need to replenish.
The trick isn't trying to replenish what you lose, it's finding out how much your body can effectively use and absorb. Luckily, it can be easier to stay replenished by following a few simple tips. Let's go over those now.
Change Up Your Diet
What we eat makes a huge impact on whether we are healthy or not. Just as you worry about if eating a food is healthy or not, you should decide if you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients.
Eating these highly processed foods blast us with sodium and lacks in other electrolytes like potassium or magnesium.
Place your focus on eating a variety of fresh foods, especially fruits and veggies that are high in potassium and magnesium. Some foods I'd recommend incorporating into your diet include:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruit
- Drink enough water
While this "drink 8 glasses of water a day" rule of thumb is a good standard to follow, most people may have different needs. The amount of water you need to drink depends on your age, the climate you live in, how often do you exercise, and even your overall body size.
Overhydration and dehydration are both bad for you. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water so that you urinate at least every three to four hours. This generally equates to around 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses daily.
Check Your Medications
Taking an antibiotic, diuretic, hormonal pills, blood pressure medications, or even cancer treatments impact your electrolyte levels.
Laxatives and diuretics change your potassium and sodium levels in your blood and urine. This imbalance will eventually lead to anxiety, fast heart rate, digestion issues, and having trouble sleeping.
If you've started a new medication and notice changes in your mood, energy, sleep, or heartbeat, talk to your doctor about changing medications so that it minimizes effects on your electrolytes.
Refuel After Training
Earlier I mentioned that you should worry more about your overall electrolyte intake rather than trying to refuel after training. While this is true, taking care to rehydrate and compensate for the extra sweat and electrolytes lost is just as important.
A slight dehydration can cause performance loss, cramping, and dizziness. Prepare to drink anywhere from 1.5 to three extra glasses of water intra and post-workout to replenish what you just burned.
Eating nutritious foods and drinking plenty of water the rest of the day will be adequate to get your body water levels back to normal. If you experience cramping or feeling dizzy, guzzle down a couple bottle of water and consume electrolytes until you feel better.
Stress levels, genetic factors, or other conditions can cause people to be chronically deficient in some electrolytes. Fortunately, the supplement industry has our backs and allows us to supplement our diets with what we really need.
NaturaLyte by MTS
offers a unique blend to help us keep up on our electrolytes without breaking the bank.
Wrapping It Up
There's more to fitness than lifting weights and eating chicken. The types of food we choose to eat, how much of that food we eat, and how much water we drink all impact us daily.
Making healthy choices means you are taking responsibility of your body and doing what you can do to keep it running optimally.
Getting sick or having a hard day at work can really throw our electrolytes out of whack. Without proper care and attention, this can lead to debilitating cramps or much worse.