Jun 27, 2022
Your Complete Guide to Electrolytes
Ads for sports drinks constantly talk about replenishing electrolyte levels. Your doctor may also tell you that you need to get more electrolytes during your annual checkup. What does any of this mean? In this article, you’ll learn why keeping an eye on electrolyte levels is so important.
What Are Electrolytes?
The simple answer is that electrolytes are essential minerals. The body uses these nutrients to carry out crucial jobs in and around every one of your cells. Some of the most important electrolytes include calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Why Are Electrolytes Important?
Electrolytes keep your body’s systems running smoothly:
- Balanced pH levels
- Muscle contractions
- Energy levels
- Nerve signals and health
- Brain chemicals
To understand how vital electrolytes are, imagine a manufacturing business. In this example, electrolytes are like the company’s workers. The brain is the CEO, and the business’s capital represents your energy levels.
Even if that CEO had all the money in the world, the business wouldn’t be able to operate without employees. It needs workers to operate equipment and get the job done. In the same way, all the organs and muscles in the body, including your brain and heart, depend on electrolytes every day.
How Can You Tell When You’re Running Low on Electrolytes?
The easiest way to measure electrolyte levels is with a blood test, like the one your doctor orders during a routine checkup. At home, you can look for several signs that something is off with electrolyte balance:
- Persistent muscle cramps
- Intense feelings of nausea
- Frequent tiredness or fatigue
- Low energy levels or lack of motivation
- Concentration problems
- Strong headaches
- General “sick” feeling
Many people are shocked to discover that the persistent headaches and exhaustion they thought were caused by sickness are really because of low electrolyte levels.
When Do You Need To Get More Electrolytes?
Several situations can make you lose electrolytes:
- Exercise: Sweating is the most common way people lose electrolytes. If you go for a jog, make sure to stay hydrated during your run. Outdoor enthusiasts take along water and trail mix for long hikes so they have plenty of potassium, sodium and other electrolytes.
- Bathroom breaks: Frequently urinating can drain electrolytes. If you love your coffee — a diuretic —swap one cup with a glass of water and a protein bar.
- Stomach troubles: Be careful with electrolyte levels if you catch the stomach flu or get food poisoning. Vomiting and diarrhea leave your body extremely dehydrated, which also causes a huge drop in electrolytes.
How Good Are Sports Drinks for Electrolyte Levels?
For the most part, sports drinks are a scam. They do have magnesium, potassium and other minerals, but they’re packed with way too much sugar. Unless you’re running in a marathon, steer clear of mainstream sports beverages.
It’s better to get your electrolytes from natural sources:
A tasty, nutritious diet is an excellent source of minerals. Focus on replenishing as many electrolytes as you lose.
How Much Sodium, Calcium and Potassium Do You Need?
The key to healthy mineral levels is balance. High sodium can increase blood pressure, but without some salt, you’re going to have trouble with muscle weakness and cramps. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations to get the right amount of sodium, potassium and calcium.