So you hear about electrolytes and that your body needs it especially when you exercise. First thing to ring a bell to find it? Gatorade maybe? (You may see a lot of those gym rats sipping on those sports drinks)
But what exactly ARE electrolyes? Are sports drinks REALLY the best place to find them? What other sources can I find them?
Electrolytes are minerals that break into small, electrically-charged particles called ions when they dissolve in water. Found in blood and cells, electrolytes are essential in exercise because they regulate bodily fluids. Sodium and chloride, which maintain normal blood pressure and support muscle and nerve function, may be the most well known of the bunch. But they also include calcium (aids in muscle contraction), magnesium (aids in healthy cell function), and potassium and phosphate (both help to regulate enegery and pH balance).
The body loses electorlytes as you sweat. When an imbalance occurs, symptoms can begin with fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps, and mental confusion. However, the body loses water faster than it loses elecrolytes, so it may not ALWAYS be necessary to thing you need to replace these minerals. Workouts less than an hour may only require water just to rehydrate.
Now for workouts longer than an hour, electorlyte replacement depends on a few factors. Men tend to sweat more than women, so they may need more sodium than even smaller individuals. Individual sweat rate my vary from person to person. More intense exercises, such as kickboxing, or HIIT training, can deplete more electrolytes. Warmer weather also causes you to sweat more than usual. The best way to check fluid intake is to weigh in before and after exercise, and consume 16-24 ounces of fliud for every pound of body weight lost.
Be mindful when going to grab one of those cool or delishious looking sports drinks. They like to stand out making you THINK its healty, when it may just cancel out all that hard work you just put in. And not only are there drinks out there, but you may also find gels, candys, and gummies. The amount of carbs, sugars, and calories varies from each product.
Look for drinks that have 4-9% carbohydrates per 8 ounces, and 120-170mg of sodium. Watch out for sugar.
Below are 3 different replacement options:
A. Electrolytes + No/Very Low Calories (< 10 calories per 8-ounce serving)
This category includes most of the newer portable hydration tablets and electrolyte capsules, which provide no calories. Products in this category that do provide carbohydrate are often flavored with alternative sweeteners (e.g., sucralose, acesulfame potassium, sorbitol and stevia). The electrolyte-specific capsules are useful during longer-duration exercise sessions and competitions in a hot environment, particularly for individuals who have a high sodium sweat concentration and high sweat losses. These products are typically taken along with a traditional sports drink to increase overall electrolyte consumption.
Examples: Nuun Active Hydration, Zym Endurance Tablet, Elixir, Powerbar Electrolyte Sticks, Thermolytes, Thermotabs, Lava Salts, Endurolytes, Sportaktive Portable Electrolyte Mix
B. Electrolytes + Calories (10–80 calories per 8-ounce serving)
This category includes familiar sports drinks, as well as some new options designed to provide fewer calories. Most of the products contain a 4–8% carbohydrate solution and include ingredients such as glucose, glucose polymers, sucrose, maltodextrin and fructose. These products provide appropriate amounts of carbohydrates and electrolytes to prevent glycogen depletion and maintain fluid balance when exercise sessions and competitions last 45–120 minutes.
Examples: Accelerade, Accelerade Hydro, Clif Shot Electrolyte Replacement, Cytomax, G2, Gatorade, Powerade
C. Endurance-specific electrolytes + Calories (10–80 calories per 8-ounce serving)
This category includes products for individuals participating in exercise sessions and competitions lasting longer than 120–180 minutes. These products are designed to help offset higher sweat losses and may prevent muscle cramping.
Examples: First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System (EFS), Gatorade Endurance Formula, Luna Electrolyte Splash, Hammer Motor Tabs, Powerbar Endurance Sports Drink
Drinks are not the ONLY sources for electrolytes as well. Food sources can include table salt, pickles, tomato juice/sauce, yogurt, banana, sweet potatoes, loives, pumpkin seeds, spinach, milk, kale, and sardines.
It is important to drink 16-24 ounces of fluids 1-2 hours before exercise, fluids every 15 minutes during exercise, and 16-24 ounces of fluids after exercse. Remember, if you are feeling thirsty, most likely you are dehydrated. Thirst is a delayed symptom of dehydration that should not determine when your should consume fluide.