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What You Need to Know About Electrolytes

By Julie Zeitlhuber on July 8, 2019

What You Need to Know About Electrolytes

What’s all that fuss you keep hearing about electrolytes? In this post, we’re going to cover everything about electrolytes: from the importance of hydration, different types of electrolytes, and how to replenish your electrolytes after a workout. You’re going to be an expert on electrolytes in no time – just keep reading!

 

the Importance of Hydration

Fluid and electrolyte balance are critical to optimal exercise performance and exercise capacity. Did you know that you can lose between 0.5– 2.0 liters of sweat per hour during exercise and training? When 2% or more of your body weight is lost through sweat, exercise performance can be significantly impaired. Maughan RJ, Noakes TD. Fluid replacement and exercise stress. A brief review of studies on fluid replacement and some guidelines for the athlete. Sports Med. 1991;12(1):16–31., Sawka MN, Burke LM, Eichner ER, Maughan RJ, Montain SJ, Stachenfeld NS. American college of sports medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):377–90.

 

Different types of electrolytes

Sweat contains electrolytes: primarily sodium and to a lesser extent potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These electrolytes help to regulate our fluid balance, blood pH, heart, nerve and muscle function. These minerals are electrically charged, which means that they have the ability to conduct electrical impulses—essential in firing off muscle contractions. To keep muscular, cardiac, nervous, and digestive systems all running smoothly, an adequate supply of electrolytes is required. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS. Accessed on 16/05/2019 from: http://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/nutritionathleticperf.ashx. Rolfes S, Pinna K, Whitney E. (2009) Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Cengage Learning. 8th ed.

Sodium

Sodium is an essential mineral and vital in the balance of your body’s fluids. It is the body’s primary extracellular cation. With large amounts of sweat loss, you lose mostly sodium and chloride and a relatively small loss of potassium and other minerals.

When you sweat profusely over a long period of time and do not replace lost sodium and you drink fluids without sufficient sodium, a condition known as hyponatremia can occur which is detrimental to health. Hyponatremia may also happen when endurance athletes drink excessive amounts of water diluting the body’s fluids to such an extent that the sodium concentration becomes extremely low, which is also known as “water intoxication”.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 300–600 mg of sodium per hour or 1.7–2.9 g of salt during a prolonged exercise bout. That equals less than 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS. Accessed on 16/05/2019 from: http://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/nutritionathleticperf.ashx, Montain SJ, Carter R, Sawka MN. (2012) Human Water and Electrolyte Balance Erdman JW (Ed.), Present Knowledge in Nutrition, 10th ed. (pp 493-505), Ames, Iowa

Potassium

Just like sodium, potassium is a positively charged ion. In contrast to sodium, potassium is the body’s primary intracellular cation, inside the body cells.

The symbiosis of sodium and potassium is vital to our nerve and muscle functioning.

Picture sodium and potassium performing a dance with each other where they briefly trade places across the cell membrane during nerve transmissions and muscle contractions. The cell then quickly pumps them back into place. But not only our nervous system and muscles benefit from their dance but also many aspects of homeostasis, including a steady heartbeat. If our dancing stars get out of balance aka. significant amounts of either sodium or potassium are lost or circulating in excess it can affect many body functions. (3, 6)Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS. Accessed on 16/05/2019 from: http://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/nutritionathleticperf.ashxPreuss HG and Cloutare DL (2012) Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium. Erdman JW (Ed.), Present Knowledge in Nutrition, 10th ed.(pp 475-492), Ames, Iowa

The Adequate Intake (AI) for adults is 3400mg for men and 2600 mg of potassium for women.  Sound like a lot? Considering that 100g of fresh peas and beans contains approximately 1300mg of potassium per serving, it’s actually really doable. (7)  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/

Magnesium

Magnesium is a busy bee in our body. It is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions. To name a few, Mg is crucial in maintaining bone health, energy metabolism, and the formation of our protein-making machinery. Just like sodium and potassium, magnesium and calcium are avid dancers. Their dynamic interaction controls muscle contractions. So once again, crucial for performance.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium for adults is 310–420 mg depending on age and gender.  (8, 9) Magnesium – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals (2018), NIH National Institute of Health. Retrieved from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ , Volpe SL (2012) Magnesium. Erdman JW (Ed.), Present Knowledge in Nutrition, 10th ed. (pp 459-474), Ames, Iowa

No big deal! One oz. of dry roasted almonds contains 80 mg of Magnesium, ½ cup of boiled spinach contains 78 mg... easy, right?

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral used by your body. You need it to build and maintain healthy bones and teeth, to facilitate nerve conduction and muscle contraction—and more. There are plenty of vegan sources of calcium, including spinach, broccoli, and figs.  Incorporating more plant-based sources of calcium has never been easier.

 

How to Replenish Electrolytes

When we go for long bike rides, we make sure to add Vega Sport® Hydrator to our water bottles. It was designed as a mid-workout product to help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. This is why every serving has higher levels of sodium (230mg), than potassium (115mg), magnesium (20mg), or calcium (50mg), but still includes all of these electrolytes to help restore your electrolyte levels.

So right after you get off your bike or out of the pool, prioritize replacing lost fluid and electrolytes. In addition to water, pay attention to your electrolyte intake. Naturally, your body craves salty food after a long workout. Coincidence?

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all hydration guide. We are all individuals, and based on your sweat and activity level you have individual needs. Hydration protocols are a great tool to monitor fluid intake and prevent dehydration during performance. You can work with a sports dietitian to figure out what your unique nutrition needs are before, during and after your workout.

Check out Vega’s resources on the basics of hydration, the dangers of dehydration, the do’s and don’ts of summer hydration, how to stay hydrated during your workout, and how to incorporate more water into your daily routine.

How do you stay hydrated when you’re working out?

Julie Zeitlhuber

Julie Zeitlhuber is a nutritional scientist and certified personal trainer who works at Vega as a Consumer Educator. When Julie is not geeking out over scientific articles, you will most likely find her cruising around on rollerblades or on her bike. Julie’s passion for food and nutrition started at very young age. Ever since she loves whizzing up nutritious and delicious magic in her kitchen and encouraging clients to take ownership of their health. 
Julie Zeitlhuber