The Importance of Electrolytes

Summertime in the South means high temperatures and a lot of sweating. Whether you’re taking your workouts outside, or simply going on a mid-day walk, - sweat-inducing activities can not only make you lose water but electrolytes too. I’m sure you know by now how important it is to drink plenty of water during the hot summer months, but did you know that replenishing your electrolytes is just as important?

What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that are important for a lot of daily functions. Some common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. We can get electrolytes from the food we eat and the fluids we drink. Electrolytes aid in several body functions including the following.

  • Control your fluid balance
  • Move nutrients into your cells
  • Move waste out of your cells
  • Contract your muscles
  • Rebuild damaged tissue
  • Maintain the correct acidity of your blood pH

Common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance
When we exercise, we lose electrolytes through sweat, which causes our bodies to feel fatigued. The more intense the exercise and the hotter the temperature, the more electrolytes and water is lost. When the amount of electrolytes in your body is too low, you may experience a headache, confusion, muscle weakness or cramps, loss of energy, fatigue, and drowsiness.

One way to notice dehydration is by assessing your urine. If you notice that you are not urinating frequently, that could be a sign of dehydration. Another way to notice dehydration is by looking at the color of your urine. Your urine should be a pale yellow to clear color. If it appears to be darker yellow, then that may be a sign of dehydration. However, don’t be alarmed if your urine is a darker color in the morning, this is because your urine is usually more concentrated because you’ve been asleep for several hours.

Risk of Hyponatremia
Sodium regulates the total amount of water in the body and plays a role in critical body functions. The brain, nervous system, and muscles all require sodium as critical processes in the body. It is important to replenish sodium after excessive losses such as post-exercise to prevent hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is a condition where the sodium content in the blood is too low. It is important to not solely drink water after excessive sweat losses to prevent further dilution of the sodium content in your body. This is a concern especially post-exercise due to sweat losses with heat, humidity, and high-intensity activities. Listed below are a few beverages and common whole food options to replenish your sodium as well as other electrolyte balances.

Beverages to help you replenish electrolytes
Below is a list of popular drinks (per 8 oz) that are rich sources of electrolytes!

  • Gatorade
    • Sodium 106 mg
    • Potassium 30 mg
  • Powerade
    • Sodium 68 mg
    • Potassium 80 mg
    • Magnesium 14 mg
  • Coconut Water
    • Sodium 252 mg
    • Potassium 600 mg
    • Magnesium 60 mg
  • Cow’s Milk
    • Sodium 107mg
    • Potassium 366mg
    • Magnesium 27 mg
  • Pedialyte
    • Sodium 243 mg
    • Potassium 183 mg
    • Chloride 290 mg

Common foods to help replenish electrolytes
Commercial beverages such as Gatorade and Powerade are a great source of replenishment, but so are whole foods that you just might have laying around your house!

  • Sodium
    • Pretzels, Chocolate Milk, Bagel with peanut butter
  • Chloride
    • Olives, Seaweed, Rye, Tomatoes, Lettuce, and Celery
  • Potassium
    • Baked potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Spinach, Kale, Peas, Beans, Avocados
  • Calcium
    • Milk, Cereal, Yogurt
  • Magnesium
    • Green Leafy Vegetables, Whole Grains, Nuts, Peanut Butter, Dried Beans, Lentils

Whenever you plan on spending the day in the heat doing excessive exercise, make sure you prepare yourself by packing salty snacks and an electrolyte rich drink. Remember if you begin to feel thirsty, that means your body is already beginning to feel dehydrated, so make sure you continuously replenish your body with plenty of fluids.

Written by Nutrition Interns: Lina Abuhamdieh, Summer Savior, and Caroline Williams