A Look at the Underrated Supplement: Electrolytes
A breakdown of electrolytes and how getting enough of them can benefit your intense workouts!
In a world full of all kinds of supplements for every purpose imaginable, it’s important to know which ones are actually beneficial and which ones are not. Electrolyte supplements have been gaining more and more attention with time, mostly being used by athletes and avid gym-goers for endurance and optimal performance. That’s because of the vital roles they play that keep your bodily functions running smoothly, and how they work in your body give them benefits that can help maximize your training efforts!
With that being said, if you’re interested in electrolytes and how they can help your workouts we’ll give you all the important information you need to decide whether you want to add them to your supplement pantry or not - Let's get started!
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals with electrical charges - such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and chloride - that are distributed through your blood and other bodily fluids. These minerals use their electrical energy to generate electrical impulses that regulate muscle function and the nervous system in order to keep your body running optimally. They also help balance the amount of water and other fluids in your body, as well as your pH levels (acidity and alkalinity). Basically, electrolytes are in charge of keeping you in tip-top shape, because if there are not enough of them then your organs don’t get the signals needed to function properly, resulting in headaches, cramping, dizziness, and changes in blood pressure. So what electrolyte supplements do is maintain an adequate electrolyte balance in your system, if your body is quickly losing fluids, while also giving your proper hydration support so that your body functions can keep running smoothly.
If you eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of water throughout the day then chances are you probably already get all the electrolytes that your body needs… But since sweating is one of the major causes of electrolyte depletion, electrolyte supplements can be very beneficial to you if you:
- Sweat heavily during exercise
- Exercise for long periods of time
- Have very intense workouts
If you fall into any of those categories, taking electrolytes during or after training can help you maintain electrolyte balance while you workout. This in turn will help you keep your performance at the maximum level while giving support to muscle contractions to prevent muscle weakness and muscle spasms in the process. Why is that so important? Well, because our bodies move via muscle contractions! Electrolytes, specifically calcium and magnesium help trigger the muscle contraction process which allows you to move. And if you’re strength training or doing any form of high-intensity training you’ll need your body to be able to move through the full range of motion of any exercise you’re doing! On top of that, they can help you even after your training by reducing the risk of muscle cramps and can help not only your muscles relax, but also you. The electrolytes potassium, magnesium, and calcium contribute to the transmission of nerve impulses and control of muscle contractions. So keeping those levels balanced will keep you hydrated and could help reduce muscle cramps you may be getting at night after an intense workout. Magnesium specifically can help you relax and get better sleep at night which in turn can enhance your recovery. While calcium aids in healthy activation and exertion of our muscles, magnesium counterbalances that by aiding in the relaxation state of our muscles. In fact, it’s been shown to reduce and prevent sleep disorders and even restless leg syndrome (contributes to sleep loss). 
This is why electrolyte drinks are a favorite amongst athletes, being preferred over regular plain water when it comes to refueling during an intense exercise according to a position stand published by the American College of Sports Nutrition.  But not only can it be beneficial for athletes or avid gym-goers, but it can also be beneficial to those who are ill with vomiting and/or diarrhea if such symptoms are severe, because a constant water loss may result in quick electrolyte depletion and dehydration. So these supplements aren’t exclusively helpful to active people or athletes, but instead, they can be beneficial to anyone at risk of quickly losing fluids in general!
How much should you take?
Now that you’ve heard the impressive benefits of supplementing with electrolytes, you might be wondering how much you should consume. Well, there are many factors at play, so we can’t really tell you exactly how much. This isn’t a “one size fits all” type of thing, because everyone has different body weights and sizes, fitness levels, health conditions, environmental factors… The list goes on, and according to a study published by the Comprehensive Physiology Journal, the optimal composition of a fluid-replacement beverage also depends on the source of the fluid loss.  Ultimately, you need to listen to your own body. If you’re looking to supplement with electrolytes for better workout performance because you know you’ll break a heavy sweat, then make sure that you’re hydrated before you start. You will feel thirsty during and after, so just drink enough that you feel replenished to keep your electrolyte levels balanced. But watch out! While your body does need electrolytes to function properly, high levels of electrolytes can be harmful to you. Since electrolytes are a group of several minerals, an excess of any of them can bring you health problems such as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure) if you have high sodium levels, kidney stones from high calcium levels, and it can even disrupt your heart rhythm if you consume too much magnesium. You need to consume large amounts of electrolytes to actually be at risk, so it’s unlikely that you’ll have any of these issues unless you already have preexisting conditions. With that being said, if you have any concerns about taking electrolytes check with your doctor or dietitian whether or not you should take them!
What should you look for when buying electrolyte drinks?
Electrolyte supplements come in different presentations, such as sports drinks, or a powder or tablet that you can just mix with water. Tap water and mineral water both contain a decent amount of electrolytes, with mineral water having a little bit more, but they’re not your best option if you’re looking to fully replenish your electrolyte deficit. Sports drinks, on the other hand, do contain great quantities of electrolytes, but they’re usually packed with artificial food dyes and often contain a lot of added sugar (such as glucose), which is a carbohydrate that helps your body absorb water more quickly. You need to watch out for the actual sugar quantity contained in the beverage since many sports drinks are very high in calories with little to no nutritional benefit.
A better option would be to get a powder or tablet electrolyte replacement, like NUUN, LiquidIV, and Ultima Replenisher to name a few. These types of electrolyte supplements dissolve in water often come in different presentations, with many flavors and different electrolyte combinations, so you can opt for the one you like the most! But as always, do your diligent research first before buying to make sure the electrolyte supplement fits your needs. Coconut water is also a great and natural option since it contains less sugar and additives than sports drinks, while still containing sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium! Another popular electrolyte drink is Pedialyte, which is marketed more for rehydration and illness, especially for kids, but they also work great as a post-workout supplement.
The bottom line is: Your body needs electrolytes to stay healthy, and electrolyte supplements can work great for you if you’re going to be losing body fluids, like sweat, in order to replenish them and maintain your overall health in optimal conditions. You don’t really need these supplements if you don’t sweat a lot or if you’re not sick, so be mindful of that! You don’t want to consume more than the human body needs since you already get a great number of electrolytes from your regular diet. Remember to listen to your body, and try to stay hydrated with regular water intake at all times!