Electrolytes - What are they and why they are important in fitness | Evolution Nutrition
When it comes to health and fitness, electrolytes certainly don’t make headlines often.
But, they are every bit as relevant and play a vital role in our athletic performance and well-being.
Today, we'll take a more in-depth look.
What are Electrolytes?
Several essential minerals fall under the electrolyte umbrella - Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, and Phosphate.
In short, electrolytes are electrically-charged molecules (ions) that release a positive or negative electric charge when they dissolve in fluid. This allows them to conduct electricity and move electrical charges or signals throughout the body.
These electric charges are vital in numerous life-sustaining processes within the body, including brain and nerve function, muscle contraction, and even the creation of new tissue.
The Overlooked Importance of Electrolytes in Fitness and Health
Each electrolyte plays a unique role within your body, but all of them are vital for good health and athletic performance. Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium, in particular, tend to receive the most attention when it comes to electrolyte replacement.
Now, we need adequate levels of each mineral within the body to function normally. Too much or too little of any of them (a disturbance) could lead to health issues.
For example, sodium is essential for fluid balance and healthy blood pressure. Disturbances can lead to cell swelling or shrinking, cognitive problems, and dysregulated blood pressure.
Potassium is needed for proper muscle function, including a regular heartbeat. Disturbances can lead to decreased athletic performance and arrhythmia.
Calcium is another critical electrolyte. Disturbances can lead to muscle spasms, impaired brain function, seizures, lethargy, lack of motivation, and muscle fatigue.
The A, B, C of Adequate Electrolyte Intake
We need to pay attention to our electrolyte intake. So, here are a few pointers:
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet, rich in foods that contain electrolytes - dark green leafy veggies, fruits (strawberries, oranges, bananas, apples, citrus fruits, etc.), chia seeds, avocados, legumes, and more.
- Find a healthy balance with sodium intake. We’re often told to limit our sodium intake, but that’s mainly because the CDC recommends consuming no more than 2300 mg/day. For many, sodium intake primarily comes from processed and restaurant foods. Cutting them out will likely limit your sodium intake, and since we need the mineral to function optimally, it’s a good idea to reach for foods like celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and seaweed to get enough of it.
And too much can also throw your system off balance.
When it comes to fluid intake, do make it a point to primarily drink water (as opposed to sodas, alcohol, and high-sugar juices), but don’t worry too much about it - drinking an extra glass or two won’t hurt you.
Pay attention to your thirst, make sure to drink up when you’re more thirsty (or if you’ve sweat a lot recently - for example, during and after your workouts).