Electrolyte Depletion: Risks and Prevention Tips for Optimal Hydration
The nutrients you get from foods and drinks are essential to the basic functions of your body, such as keeping cells hydrated. Electrolytes from foods and drinks are electrically charged nutrients that transport liquids in the body. Too much water intake without replenishing electrolyte loss can potentially cause electrolyte depletion.
So what are electrolytes, and why does maintaining a proper balance of them within your body matter?
Electrolytes Matter for Performance & Recovery
To contract and function, muscles rely on the electrical impulses generated by electrolytes. Electrolytes are also responsible for transporting nutrients into cells while clearing waste away. Because of this, the correct balance of the different electrolytes is necessary for maintaining fluid and pH balance in tissues.
Electrolytes enhance your workout performance, whether you're lifting or going for a run. By maintaining optimal fluid balance, electrolytes keep your body hydrated longer. Electrolytes help your muscles generate the force required to perform an exercise with their electric charge.
Electrolytes are the key to flushing metabolic waste out of muscle tissue after a workout. It's recommended you increase your water intake and electrolytes after a workout to avoid an overwhelm of metabolic waste. Excess metabolic waste causes excessive delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) because adequate hydration and electrolyte levels are required to rebalance the pH and fluid levels of your muscles.
What Are the Electrolytes?
To get clear on what minerals we're talking about, here's what each of them is and what they do:
- Sodium helps your body absorb and retain water. It also prevents blood pressure from dropping too low during exercise.
- Calcium is responsible for the contraction of your muscles, and it works with protein to help build muscle tissue.
- Potassium also helps muscles contract. It regulates fluid balance as a diuretic, which offsets sodium's absorbency.
- Chloride is vital for the body's pH balance, and it plays secondary roles in muscle contraction and fluid balance.
- Phosphate assists in the absorption of calcium, which is why calcium and phosphate levels should remain balanced. Phosphate also enables nerve function and is required for muscle contraction.
- Magnesium helps your muscles relax after contracting, and without it, they're prone to cramping and spasms.
The Risk of Electrolyte Depletion
Since electrolytes are involved in muscle function, they're often lost to sweat or other processes during exercise. Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle cramps, spasms, and irregular heartbeat are some of the recognizable symptoms of low electrolyte levels.
Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance
When you suddenly sweat, vomit or otherwise release an amount of water, it can upset the balance of your electrolytes. Also, a sudden water intake after a workout without replenishing electrolytes can dilute and deplete your electrolyte levels.
Causes of Dehydration
Dehydration inevitably offsets electrolyte balance, just like an electrolyte imbalance affects your hydration. You want to avoid dehydration as much as you do electrolyte depletion.
Here are the major culprits of dehydration:
- Not replacing fluid lost to sweat
- Excessive diuretics like caffeine
- Kidney disease
What Is Overhydration?
Overhydration is the excessive dilution of electrolytes in your body, leading to fluid imbalance. When you guzzle more water than your kidneys can remove in your urine, you'll experience water retention.
Since electrolytes are needed for water absorption and excretion, they're responsible for transporting water in a way that truly hydrates.
The Best Hydration Techniques for Electrolyte Balance
Drink more water before and after exercise and whenever you're enduring hot weather or spending time in the sun. You also need more fluids if you're experiencing DOMS, or common muscle soreness, in the days after a tough workout.
What to Drink for Workouts
Not all drinking water is the same, which means the wrong hydration fix could throw your electrolyte balance out of whack.
Drink something containing electrolytes to hydrate before and after your workout. It would be best if you also used it to stay hydrated during your workout when you feel thirsty. All-natural coconut water can be considered nature's sports drink since it's a great source of potassium, sodium, and other electrolytes needed for optimal hydration.
What to Eat for Electrolytes
Being easy to digest and a healthy source of carbs, fruit is generally the best way to replenish electrolytes after a workout. Many fruits are biologically designed to provide hydration alongside the electrolytes we need.
If you've ever been to a marathon or 5k race, you'll undoubtedly see heaps of bananas piled next to sports drinks. Bananas are a particularly generous source of potassium, which is a mineral key to preventing overhydration. Incorporating a variety of fruit into your diet and getting multiple servings a day can help ensure you have the electrolytes to keep overhydration at bay.
How Much Water to Drink
According to research, between 2 and 6 percent of your own body weight is lost to sweat during exercise. It's recommended that men drink about 3.7 liters of water each day and women drink 2.7 liters per day. Keeping a drink on hand and drinking every 20 to 30 minutes is your best bet for getting the hydration you need.
Because workouts involve burning through your electrolytes, it's important for proper fluid balance that you replenish electrolytes as you go. Including a sports drink (preferably a low sugar variation) for workout hydration is a start, and seasoning your food is another hack to improving your sodium intake safely.