Hydration! As most of us know, it’s important. From a young age, we’ve been encouraged by our parents, our coaches, and our doctors to drink lots of water. Here, we are going to take a deeper look into what this means for our overall health, and ways we can optimize hydration.
Water & the Body
We are made up of 60% water. Isn’t it crazy to think that even the slightest drop of water levels in the body (as little as 5%!) can lead to brain fog, slower metabolism, and a 25-30% loss of energy?!
Maybe our parents actually knew what they were talking about!
Water, and the naturally occurring electrolytes within it, ensure all of our bodily functions are operating as they should, which includes important processes such as:
- Controlling body temperature / heartrate1
- Movement of oxygen and nutrients into cells2
- Flushing out waste from the body
- Digestive system function/metabolism
- Maintaining fluid balance and correct blood acidity (pH)
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Muscle contraction (including the heart!)
As you can see, hydration goes a long way. So all we have to do is drink water, right?
Yes… and no.
There is actually a better way we can hydrate our bodies and optimize all the benefits hydration has to offer. And that answer is, electrolytes!
What are Electrolytes?
Like water, electrolytes help facilitate an array of important bodily functions and processes. Electrolytes are naturally occurring in water and foods, and are often underestimated and overlooked!
Here, we are going to give a full overview of how important electrolytes are, as well as when and how to incorporate them into our daily lives.
So… how do they work?
Electrolytes are positive and negative ions that occur when certain minerals are dissolved in a fluid; they work together to transport nutrients into cells, expel waste, and take part in many other metabolic processes; basically, they are water’s right hand man.
We all need them to survive; small processes within the body actually rely on a small electric current in order to carry out what it is they need to do.
Electrolytes, in providing this charge, help see to that these processes happen within the cells of our tissues, nerves, and muscles. We use these neurons and muscles every day; electrolytes are necessary for them to function as they move throughout these areas on the cellular level.
If you didn’t know already, you are most likely getting most of your electrolytes through your food! Eating the rainbow (meaning, a variety of fruits and vegetables) is a simple way in which we can all make sure we are getting the proper electrolytes we need.
What are the 3 Main Electrolytes?
Although there are many electrolytes that have many important functions (i.e., calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, etc.), we’ve got to say that sodium, potassium, and chloride really take center stage.
Sodium is the key player in maintaining fluid balance in the body, and by far the most important electrolyte within our extracellular fluid. Through a process called osmosis, water with less electrolytes may move through the cell membrane, to an area that has less water and more electrolytes. This process is important for our internal electrolyte balance, hydration, nerve function, and muscle function.
Another interesting element to sodium is that 85% of it is found in our blood and lymphatic system. Our body is constantly monitoring our blood volume and levels of sodium concentration to achieve perfect balance.
Potassium, as an intracellular electrolyte that is essential for the proper functioning of our cells. Maintaining healthy levels of potassium is imperative for a healthy heartbeat and properly functioning muscles.
Chloride is, like sodium, found mostly extracellularly (in the blood, and outside of cells). It keeps the amount of fluid inside and outside of our cells balanced; it keeps our pH regulated, checks blood volumes in the body, and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Benefits of Electrolytes
Electrolytes have big, big benefits! Here are just some of the miraculous things electrolytes can do in your exercise regime, immune health, brain power, stress management, and more.
1. Exercise Performance
Later, we will talk more about why electrolyte intake is so important during exercise. For now, I’ll just mention that if you want long-lasting focus, speed, endurance, and strength, sipping an electrolyte drink during your work-out is essential. You’d be surprised how far a lil’ bit of magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium will get you!
2. Maintains a Healthy Immune System
If you want to keep your body’s first line of defense in tip-top shape, drink electrolytes!
Many immune cells depend on electrolytes to function; they help regulate immune cell signaling to enable our immune system to act. Electrolytes help recycle cells (takes part in the replication and death of cells), take part in anti-inflammatory processes, and more.
3. Brain Power
Hydration! As stated earlier, even the slightest drop in water levels in the body can contribute to impaired cognition. Furthermore, since our brain and all of its neuron-communicating functions rely on electrolytes to get those messages across, you can only imagine how important it is to pair our H20 with some electrolytes, and drink up!
This is also where a balance in electrolytes is imperative. Sodium, for instance, has a significant impact on the brain. Too little sodium results in too much water in the brain. Too much sodium does the opposite; not enough water in the brain. Both a deficit and an excess can give us a serious headache and poor brain function (or worse)… No thank you!
4. Stress Management
Drinking water and electrolytes also play a significant role in keeping us calm, cool, and collected. Studies have shown that magnesium, specifically, has a beneficial effect on mild to moderate anxiety, playing a key role in regulating normal stress response.
Ironically, even feeling stressed can cause depletion in your own magnesium levels. If this vicious stress cycle sounds familiar, it might be time to start getting your daily dose of magnesium.
When to Drink Electrolytes
In most cases, anyone eating a healthy diet is getting plenty of electrolytes. Day-to-day generic fruits and veggies (bananas, spinach, nuts, celery, tomatoes, leafy greens, etc.), and drinking plenty of water, have what it takes to keep our electrolyte levels balanced.
There are, however, certain times in which our electrolytes become unbalanced. In some cases, our bodies need a little extra help in replenishing them, such as:
- Exercising (sweating)
- Hot temperatures
- Being under-the-weather
- Taking certain medications
Here, we will highlight a few of them:
Sweating is one of our body’s most important detoxification pathways. When we exercise, we sweat, losing both water & minerals from the body. This is a good thing!
In order to maintain our strength and focus during exercise, however, as well as to aid in our post-workout recovery, we must replenish during exercise, and after (especially in the hotter seasons of the year).
Although the amount of electrolytes lost during a workout differs from person-to-person, studies show that even a 2% loss in body weight (via sweat) can affect performance levels and electrolyte balance within the body.
Next workout, keep an electrolyte-enhanced drink within arm’s reach (oh, and pro-tip, be wary of the sugar content. Most sport’s drinks are way too sugared-up!).
Stay Safe, Stay Cool
This is a less common situation, but still important all the same!
Since we know electrolytes can help regulate body temperature, this can also apply to preventing serious effects in hotter temperatures, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat rash.
Although we all know that sweating is the go-to way for our body’s to release internal heat, sometimes this isn’t enough. In order to replace the minerals and water lost and help keep your internal temperature cool…you guessed it. Replenish with water and electrolytes.
When traveling to hotter climates, keep the good stuff with you (H20 and electrolytes), and ditch anything that is dehydrating (i.e., alcohol, coffee, etc.).
Getting Sick, it Happens
From time to time, we all have a normal human experience of getting sick, whether that’s vomiting or diarrhea. Normally we can bounce right back, but when we are down-and-out for a longer length of time, our body’s can lose a lot of water and electrolytes (this happens all too often to children). This throws off the communication between our cells (hint: headaches, muscle cramps, and more) and our body’s pH.
Replenishing our electrolytes (especially sodium, chloride, and potassium, in this case) is important to get our body’s back on track, and to properly absorb and use the water we drink.
What Happens when your Body is Low on Electrolytes?
There are many symptoms attributed to electrolyte imbalance. On most days, we are more likely to be low on electrolytes than to have too many electrolytes (besides America’s love for sodium!).
This is because our bodies are constantly at work to ensure electrolyte levels are balanced (we can thank our kidneys and hormones for that), but as we discussed, there are times when we don’t have the right amount of electrolytes in our body.
The following symptoms vary in severity based on the individual; some of which are caused by a specific electrolyte whose levels are too high or too low in the body:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Twitching/muscle spasms
- Changes in blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Mood changes
- Frequent urination
Okay, I know, we get it. Electrolytes are important!
So how much do we need per day to feel all the benefits electrolytes have to offer?
According to sources5, here is what we are looking at for our recommended daily intake for most people under 50 years old:
- Sodium: 1500mg
- Potassium: 4,700mg
- Calcium: 1,000mg
- Magnesium: 320 for men, 420 for women
- Chloride: 2,300mg
Needless to say, the recommended intake of these electrolytes depends on age, our individual composition, our diets, and our activity levels.
What is the Best Way to Replenish Electrolytes?
If any of the symptoms above sound familiar to you, it might be in your best interest to get some electrolytes in your system.
If you haven’t already noticed, there is an overwhelming number of different electrolyte supplements and sports drinks on the market.
To narrow it down, I would recommend avoiding all the sports drinks that are sugar-loaded. They often contain low-quality electrolytes that, alongside the sugar content, aren’t going to do your body and mind justice!
My favorite electrolyte powder is Ultima (especially the raspberry flavor!). I mix it with fresh organic lemon juice for a berry-lemonade situation that tastes great & also replenishes my body after a hard workout.
You can also simply sprinkle some Celtic sea salt into a glass or water, or make your own electrolyte drink with organic maple syrup or honey, sea salt, fresh orange juice, & water.