Should You Supplement With Electrolytes?

The summer heat combined with intense workouts may require you to reach for more than just water after class. Find out when you should replenish electrolytes and why.


Recently, we’ve highlighted how consuming the right macronutrients from food along with proper hydration can help aid recovery from exercise. Supplying our bodies with the right nutrients not only improves our performance in the studio, it’s key to the healing and repair of muscle tissue, restoring energy reserves, and keep us feeling well overall. When discussing post-workout nutrition, it’s important to include electrolytes in the conversation. Media advertisements have us believing we need to guzzle a colorful sports drink after a workout—but that may not be the case. Read on to see if electrolytes should have a place in your routine.

First, what are electrolytes and why do we need them?

Electrolytes are minerals (sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus) that have an electric charge. These chemicals are responsible for regulating many processes that keep the body functioning properly. They maintain fluid balance and transmit nerve impulses necessary for proper heart function, muscle contraction, and blood pressure regulation.

We lose electrolytes through bodily fluids including sweat and urine (as well as diarrhea and vomiting when sick). Through sweat, we mostly lose sodium and potassium. After a long run or bike ride on a hot day, you’ve likely felt these salts on your skin once sweat has evaporated. Your daily requirement of electrolytes depends on a variety of factors such as:

·      Climate

·      Physical activity level - exercising for more than 90 minutes or at high intensity

·      Age – older adults are more at risk for imbalances

·      Hydration

Electrolytes need to stay within a certain range. Falling outside of the recommended range may cause electrolyte imbalances, which can bring on symptoms such as dizziness, muscle cramping or twitching, fatigue, brain fog, irregular heartbeat, nausea, headaches, and more. For example, our muscles require calcium, sodium and potassium to contract properly—and if there is an imbalance, we experience muscle cramping or weakness. Imbalances can be caused by dehydration, kidney disease, certain medications or medical conditions. Experiencing these symptoms is a cry from your body to replenish electrolytes stat—therefore, the goal is to prevent yourself from getting to this point. 

Can you replenish electrolytes from food?

Yes! It’s always best to look to nature for getting nutrients from food vs. supplements first. For most, daily intake of food and drinks can provide adequate electrolytes. Including fresh, whole foods in your diet should be enough to get your fix (for the average athlete under moderate conditions). You can find these essential minerals in the following foods:

Sodium – tomatoes, olives, canned tuna, pickles, whole-grain bread, lentils, table salt

Chloride – table salt, seaweed, lettuce, radishes

Potassium – bananas, coconut water, watermelon, spinach, root vegetables (beets, parsnips, and sweet potatoes), pomegranate

Magnesium – dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, whole grains, nuts and seeds, salmon

Calcium – diary milk and yogurt, fortified dairy alternatives, dark leafy greens, almonds, figs

Phosphorus – nuts, beans, meat, and dairy

What about supplements?

If you’re someone who exercises outdoors in hot weather, for longer than an hour or at high intensity, sweats profusely, or dehydrated to begin with, you could benefit from replenishing electrolytes from a supplement. Electrolytes can be found in the form of tablets, powders, or sports drinks and gels. Avoid supplements that are packed with sugar or contain a lot of additives. A few good replacements, include:

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·      Skratch Labs Mix - *Kat’s pick

·      Liquid I.V. – *Ashley H’s pick. (individual packets are now available for purchase at the studio!)

·      Ultima Replenisher

·      Nuun tablets – top pick for portability

·      Perfect Keto Electrolyte capsules (consumer report’s top recommendation) 

·      Coconut water - a natural option, though low in sodium. Just sprinkle in a little Himalayan salt in the coconut water or have alongside a sodium-containing food.

 

Bottom line

A diet full of fresh, whole foods along with plenty of water should be sufficient for replenishing electrolyte levels for most “average athletes.” During the hot summer months or with increased activity, an electrolyte supplement may be beneficial to help keeping things in check and running smoothly.   

Additionally, if you follow a keto or low carb diet, supplementing with electrolytes may be necessary. We recommend consulting with a doctor or nutritionist in this case.