UNDERSTAND ELECTROLYTES IN 5 MINUTES
Time to read 5 min
Time to read 5 min
You've heard of the term electrolytes before, but do you really know what they are, what they do, and why they are essential for all of us? Let's break it down for you…
Found in your blood, urine, tissues, and fluid, electrolytes are essential charged minerals necessary for metabolic processes. There are six main electrolytes crucial for optimal body functioning: sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium.
Vital for a healthy, well-functioning body due to its role in numerous bodily processes like healthy nerve and muscle function, exercise recovery, hydration, and maintaining fluid balance, electrolytes are vastly underrated in the abundance of health benefits they offer. Why? Let's take a look.
To ensure each electrolyte can carry out its job well, the balance between all is a must for prime performance:
Sodium plays a vital role in performance and recovery as it helps with the absorption and retainment of the fluid you take in, enhancing your blood plasma volume. Ultimately this reduces stress on the cardiovascular system, as you have more blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to keep working adequately. Replacing the sodium lost during excessive sweating is crucial for maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance and overall performance.
In 2015, a study involving triathletes found that those who sufficiently replenished sodium lost via sweat completed a middle distance triathlon 26 minutes faster than those who did not replace lost sodium. (Del Coso, 2015) Although everyone's sodium loss via sweat is different, it shows that nailing your hydration strategy is vital!
Signs of low sodium within the body include fatigue and muscle cramping, not to mention the increased strain on your cardiovascular system as it becomes harder to pump blood to your working muscles and cool your body down.
To put it simply, calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and also one of the most underappreciated. Contributing to numerous functions from maintaining brain function, muscle contractions, insulin sensitivity, stabilising blood pressure, and bone maintenance, adequate calcium is non-negotiable for an optimal functioning body. It's so vital that if you aren't getting enough of it through your diet, your body will pull it from your bones to ensure everything else is functioning correctly! This is something you don't want…
From an exercise point of view, calcium too can be lost via sweat, especially when training in warm environments or with long-distance style exercise. If you're one to lift heavy, run far, and build strength, your bones could take the fall if you're not getting enough calcium.
Calcium deficiency is no joke. This will often feel like extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, and cramping, limiting your strength and endurance and weakening your performance overall.
As with most electrolytes, the significance of potassium is hugely underestimated. Considered the third most abundant mineral in the body, potassium aids with regulating muscle contractions, sending nerve signals, and helping the body regulate fluid. How? When an electrolyte hits the water, it dissolves into ions, positive or negative, that can conduct electricity. Potassium ions, in particular, carry a positive charge that is used to manage the functions listed above.
Often associated with calcium deficiencies, potassium may also help with the prevention of Osteoporosis - a condition where bones become brittle and weak. A study involving 62 women aged 45-55 found that those with a diet high in potassium had a greater total bone mass than those who didn't (New, 2000).
Potassium takes part in carbohydrate storage for muscle fuel from an exercise perspective. So, when potassium intake is low or lost during periods of excessive sweating - fatigue, poor performance, cardiovascular and nervous system irregularities can be the result.
Making up one of the chemicals found in electrolytes in the body, chloride commonly bonds with sodium or potassium. It is absorbed through the intestines, offering several health and performance benefits. As one of the most important electrolytes in the blood as it balances intracellular and extracellular fluid, chloride also maintains blood pressure and blood volume, and the pH of your body fluids. Most of the chloride in your body comes from salt in your diet, with the excess being excreted via urine and sweat.
In exercise, chloride plays an integral role in the functioning, repair, and recovery of muscles and endurance. From an athlete's point of view, peak performance is always the goal, so replenishing lost electrolytes during sweat is a must! Dehydration is a common cause of chloride imbalance, which often involves vomiting, lethargy, muscle spasms, difficulty breathing, and disorientation.
If your diet is high in calcium and protein, you'll likely be getting enough of this abundant mineral into your body. Phosphorus is responsible for many functions, particularly filtering waste and repairing tissues and cells. In a nutshell, exercise enthusiasts need phosphate to keep muscles moving, maintain strong and healthy bones, reduce post-exercise muscle pain, grow muscle, repair tissues and cells, maintain a regular heartbeat, filter waste in kidneys, and utilise vitamins such as vitamin B and D. There's no denying it plays a significant role in performance and recovery!
When phosphate levels are low, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, and joint pain can result, so keeping your levels up is imperative for your body goals.
Did you know every cell in your body contains magnesium as your body NEEDS it to function? From energy creation, muscle movement and recovery, and nervous system regulation, magnesium is involved in hundreds of processes within the body. Particularly important for exercise performance and recovery, magnesium is a staple ingredient in many performance-oriented supplements, including sleep support products, pre-workouts, thermogenics, EAA formulas, and nootropics.
If you've got muscle gaining goals in your sights, check this out. A 2015 study involving 2570 women discovered that high magnesium intake was associated with increased power, performance, and muscle mass. (Welch, 2015)
Struggling with your mood? A 6-week study involving 126 people concluded that supplementing with 248mg of magnesium per day reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, regardless of whether they were deficient in the mineral. (Tarleton, 2017)
When it comes to topping up on electrolytes, fortunately, many supplements include all of the critical electrolytes crucial for optimal performance and recovery, so unless advised by a healthcare practitioner for specific deficiencies, you won't need to consume all electrolytes individually.For more on electrolytes, reach out to our friendly online team or pop into your local ASN store to chat about what is best for you!