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Recharging your batteries: a guide to electrolytes

It may be hard to believe, but much of what is required for our bodies to function comes from small electrical charges. These charges are sent around the body and contribute to things like muscle contraction, nerve function, repairing of damaged tissue and hydration.

What are electrolytes, and why do we need them?

Electrolytes provide these electric charges and are essential chemicals that conduct electricity when they are mixed with water.
Our bodies need to maintain a good electrolyte level so they can perform all its various functions.
Several different electrolytes in our body need to be topped up regularly. These include potassium, sodium, calcium, bicarbonate, chloride, phosphate and magnesium.
From reading that list, you immediately start thinking of common sources for some electrolytes. Calcium, for example, can be found in dairy products, such as milk or cheese.
When we sweat during and after exercise, we predominantly lose sodium and potassium, so we should look for these electrolytes sources to replenish our levels.

What happens to our bodies when our electrolytes are low?

Think of an electric battery. When its power source is low, it needs recharging, and this is the same thing for the human body. When we have low electrolyte levels in our system, our ‘batteries’ need recharging.
Low levels of electrolytes in the body can cause fatigue, headaches and dehydration. In the long-term, consistently low levels of electrolytes can lead to kidney and heart disease.

How can I replace lost electrolytes?

Electrolytes lost through exercise are most likely to be sodium and potassium (that’s why our sweat has a salty taste to it). Still, all types of electrolytes are required to maintain healthy body function.
The food we eat and the liquids we drink provide many rich sources of electrolytes that contribute to our health in different ways. For example, bananas are rich in potassium, which is probably why you see professional tennis players munching on them in their breaks between games.

Food

Here is a list of other foods and liquids which provide electrolytes:

    • Potatoes
      A good source of phosphorous and magnesium and, when eaten with the skin on, also supply us with potassium.
    • Nuts and seeds
      A great healthy snack, seeds and nuts can provide sources of phosphorous and magnesium.
    • Leafy greens
      Greens such as kale and spinach are packed with electrolytes such as calcium and magnesium.
    • Pulses
      Eating beans, legumes and lentils is a great way to get lots of electrolytes into our bodies. Kidney beans and lentils contain magnesium, potassium and phosphorous. Certain kinds of bean curd, like tofu, can also have calcium.
    • Water
      Low levels of electrolytes in the body lead to dehydration, so getting liquids on board is essential. Drinking water is a great way to rehydrate and replenish your levels of electrolytes.
    • Milk
      Cow’s milk is a bit of an all-rounder when it comes to nutrition. We probably learn from an early age that it is full of calcium, which contributes to healthy bones, but it also contains sodium, potassium, protein and carbs. Milk may not seem like an obvious recovery drink, but it ticks a lot of boxes.
    • Coconut milk
      You can pick up coconut milk from almost any supermarket, and the good thing is it is packed with sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
    • Electrolyte powders
      GO Electrolyte provides electrolytes like sodium to hydrate quickly and gives you a rapid supply of carbohydrates to replace lost glucose. A loss of electrolytes, particularly through exercise, can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and breathing, dry skin and even fainting.
    • GO Hydro contains potassium and sodium and helps our bodies maintain a healthy fluid balance throughout exercise. Keeping yourself hydrated and your energy levels up during exercise or sport helps prevent fatigue to ensure you reach peak physical performance.

 

Conclusion

Training and exercise often involve fierce competition with ourselves. We are constantly trying to improve our performance, but if we don’t have our batteries fully charged every time, we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage.
By learning about electrolytes and their importance to peak performance, we can make sure we have the right levels in our system to be the very best every time.

Written By

Science in Sport