What are Electrolytes, Why They are Needed for Performance
What are Electrolytes, Why They are Needed for Performance

Proper hydration is a topic that's not nearly stressed enough when discussing training and overall athletic performance. Having sufficient amounts of the essential electrolytes and water in your body ensures you're able to maintain a high level of performance from start to finish.

In fact, even a little as a 2% reduction in hydration levels can lead to cramping, fatigue, and significantly decreased performance.

Related - 5 Tips To Properly Replenish Your Electrolytes

As you can see, staying hydrated is crucial if you're intent on breaking PRs or outlasting the competition. The key to maintaining proper hydration - electrolytes.

Let's take a deeper look at the electrolytes, and why you need to make them a priority if you're set on maximizing your performance.

What are Electrolytes?

WaterElectrolytes are simply salt ions dissolved in fluid that allow the fluid to conduct electricity. There are several common electrolytes found in the body, but the four most important ones we're going to focus on in regards to maximizing performance are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Sodium

Sodium, a.k.a. salt, is used by the body to regulate blood pressure and volume. It helps maintain fluid balance and is essential from proper muscle function. Muscle tissue and neurons are activated by sodium activity, and if you're lacking in sodium, your muscles weaken, "fire" more slowly, and eventually cramp.

At a bare minimum, the human body needs ~500mg per day to function properly, with a recommended intake not to exceed 2,300 mg of sodium daily, approximately one teaspoon of salt. However, most people consume somewhere between 3,000 - 4,000mg daily. Research in mixed on whether excessive consumption of sodium impacts blood pressure, but one thing is certain -- if you're a hard training athlete, you need of sodium is significantly ramped up.

Research on athletes has shown that as much as 8,500mg of sodium can be lost over just two hours. Unconditioned athletes have been known to lose even more when exercising in the heat.

Basically, if you're an athlete, your body is burning through a considerably greater amount of electrolytes, so replacing them becomes absolutely essential if you're to maintain a high level of performance, more on that in a bit.

For the moment, let's keep rolling with the electrolyte breakdown.

Potassium

While sodium is found outside of your cells, potassium is the primary electrolyte found inside your cells. It's vital to regulating muscle function and heartbeat.

More importantly for our purposes here (performance), potassium forms the other half of the electrical pump that maintains electrolyte balance and allows conductivity between cells. This also makes potassium a crucial cog in the process of neurotransmission, which helps nerves communicate.

Much like sodium, potassium is the other electrolyte that is lost in vast amounts during exercise. Replenishing potassium is as important (if not more so) as sodium, since it supports muscle contraction and nerve transmission.

Similar to sodium deficiency, lacking in potassium often results in muscle cramping and injury. If you needed another reason why potassium is important for performance, it also helps store carbohydrates for energy, something you're going to need if you're looking to truly dominate your training session.

Calcium

The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is about as well known as sodium is, mostly due to Big Dairy's marketing that it's needed for strong bones and teeth. While that is true, calcium is also responsible for much more in the body, particularly in regards to enhancing your performance.

Calcium is critical for the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and even blood clotting. Additionally, your body also calcium in the bloodstream and cells (especially muscle cells).

If you're blood levels of calcium are deficient, the required calcium is taken from your bones (99% of the body's calcium stores are found in the skeletal system), and if this happens frequently enough you're eventually going to get osteoporosis. Maybe those "got milk" ads were onto something after all...

Magnesium

Magnesium might be the most undervalued and appreciated electrolyte of the group. To highlight just how important this mighty mineral is, magnesium is required for over 300 reactions in the body, and also plays a key role in the creation of DNA and RNA.

Magnesium is the fourth most prevalent mineral in the body and helps maintain proper nerve and muscle function, maintains a regular heart rate, supports bone and teeth formation, boosts the immune system, and stabilizes blood sugar. It even is helpful for transporting energy in the body.

You can find magnesium is all sorts of foods, but it's particularly rich in leafy greens, coffee, tea, and nuts.

Coconut Water

While coconut water isn't a true electrolyte on its own, it does contain two of the most important electrolytes in sodium and potassium. A single ounce of coconut water contains as much as 61mg of potassium and 5.45 grams of sodium.

Coconut water makes the biggest difference when consumed after a workout since it replenishes the two essential electrolytes while adding very little sugar (1.3 grams of sugar per ounce).

Fueling for Optimal Performance

Staying properly hydrated is important at all times, but none more crucial than the peri-workout window (the time before, during, and after you train/compete). To ensure you're electrolyte stores are always topped off and you're primed for competition, use these fueling strategies, particularly if you're going to be exercising outside or in a gym that's not well ventilated.

30 minutes prior to exercise

Weight yourself (you'll understand why in a moment).

Drink 16-20 ounces of fluid along with some carbohydrates and electrolytes from food or as part of the fluid you're drinking. Most sports drinks contain around 400-450mg sodium per liter, so you might want to add in a salty snack on the side such as pretzels or crackers.

During exercise

Consume 6-8oz of fluid (from water/sports drinks) every 15-20 minutes with the goal being to ingest roughly 30-60g of carbs every hour you're exercising.

After exercise

After training is over, weigh yourself. For every pound of weight you lost during exercise, you need to drink 16-24oz of water. Next time you're training in similar extreme conditions, remember to consume that much extra fluid to prevent similar losses in the future.

Long term

Your nutrition and hydration during the week leading up to your competition or training event is just as important as your intake the day of exercise. As such, consider increasing your electrolyte intake (particularly sodium) leading up to your outdoor training sessions. Options for this include pretzels, canned beans, canned tuna, crackers, salted nuts, or any form of electrolyte supplement.

The goal with this increased electrolyte intake is to prevent cramping and decreased performance during training as well as hyponatremia, a condition where sodium levels in the blood are too low. Symptoms of hyponatremia range from minor (cramps and nausea) to severe (seizures or loss of consciousness).

If you're particularly concerned about your nutrient needs, enlisting the help of a physician or sports dietitian may also be helpful, particularly if you're a high-level athlete.

Stay Hydrated With NaturaLyte

Don't succumb to the effects of dehydration by failing to fuel up properly. Ensure your electrolyte stores are always topped off before, during, and after exercise with NaturaLyte by MTS Nutrition.

Each serving delivers the precise amount of crucial electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, along with a hefty 500mg serving of Coconut Water Powder needed for you to perform with the same intensity at the end of your workout as you did at the beginning.

Don't let something as easy to prevent as dehydration derail you from dominating your training, fuel up right (with NaturaLyte) and head into your workout knowing you're set to make those PRs fall.