What Are Electrolytes & What Do They Actually Do?
We've all had someone tell us that we need to keep hydrated and take enough electrolytes. These suggestions are found in various places, from a concerned mother to a sports coach and blogs about how to have a successful gym session. But why do we need to be mindful of our electrolyte intake? Let’s take a look.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals and salts with an electric charge. They help transport waste and nutrients, balance the water levels and acidity within your body, and help promote healthy cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous system functions. Electrolytes play an essential role in the human body. They help maintain steady blood pressure and aid in contracting muscles, repairing broken tissues, and energizing the tissues. If electrolytes fell away, the human body would not be able to maintain, improve or energize itself.
What do electrolytes do?
Six main electrolytes are essential for keeping up the healthy body functions. These macro electrolytes are magnesium, chloride, calcium, sodium, potassium, and phosphate.
Magnesium helps transforms glucose into energy. Magnesium creates a biochemical reaction when it comes into contact with other minerals and vitamins within the body, converting them into energy. Without magnesium, vitamin supplements would be superfluous. Magnesium is found in various sources; some typical sources are spinach, oats, bananas, black beans, and avocados.
The most crucial role of chloride in the human body is to balance fluids inside and outside the cells. Chloride also helps regulate pH levels, blood pressure, and blood volume and is predominantly found in food.
Calcium is essential for optimal bone health but also aids in the transmission of nerve messages and regulating the heartbeat and muscle contraction. For fitness lovers, calcium also helps muscle regrowth.
Sodium helps the other electrolytes work. Sodium regulates water throughout the body, ensuring that a balance is maintained and that each body area receives the perfect amount of fluid. Sodium is also essential for your gym and exercise because it ensures that muscles contract and relax comfortably. Sodium is present in meat, nuts, and some processed foods and is one of the few electrolytes that are most overconsumed than under-consumed.
Potassium is arguably the most important electrolyte of all - which is why we've packed our electrolyte supplements with 1000 milligrams of the good stuff. One of its major roles is eliminating and replacing dead cells, which is crucial for recovery. Like other electrolytes, potassium also aids in muscle contraction and function by maintaining the intracellular fluid levels within our cells which keep muscle function and performance optimum. Potassium also helps calcium keep the heartbeat regular and is essential for those with a strenuous exercise regime since it helps combat cramps.
Also known as phosphorus, it has many functions within the human body. Phosphate works alongside calcium in bone maintenance and helps form bone repair. Phosphate also aids the processing of fats and carbohydrates and helps produce and control adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which converts food to energy. ATP is also essential for a healthy workout, making it necessary for athletes.
What can happen when you have an imbalance?
Maintaining an average level of electrolytes within the body is essential. When an imbalance occurs either from an increase or decrease of a particular electrolyte, it can have adverse effects.
Electrolytes are lost when the body loses large amounts of fluids through sweating or fits of diarrhea and vomiting. Although this depends on several factors, such as your activity level and age, it is necessary to replenish electrolytes to prevent illness and imbalances. For instance, an increase or decrease in potassium can lead to nervous system issues, increasing the chances of developing an irregular heartbeat.
However, the symptoms brought forward by these imbalances can differ; the most common symptoms to look out for are as follows:
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle cramping and weakness
- Confusion and headaches
How to keep a healthy electrolyte level
Your daily food and beverage intake will account for all the electrolytes you need. But humans differ, and there might come a time when you need to supplement to top up your electrolytes.
A great example is if you live in a hot and humid area, spend lots of time outdoors, exercise regularly, and are older, it is recommended to take precautions and regulate electrolyte levels to stay healthy. This can be done in many ways, adding more electrolyte-rich foods, like leafy greens or nuts, to your diet or drinking an electrolyte solution.
Electrolyte drinks or supplements are beneficial when you work out regularly for more than an hour at a high intensity; electrolyte drinks can keep your electrolyte levels in check. Incorporating electrolyte drinks into your workout regime has many benefits, including preventing fatigue!
Electrolyte drinks can also help restore the lost electrolytes in high-demand times, such as after an intense workout, heavy sweating, hot summer days, dry winter indoor heat, or even a fit of vomiting and diarrhea. In conjunction with Keppi's electrolyte supplements, a healthy combination of water and foods such as avocados, whole grains, bananas, etc., can help restore lost electrolytes. If you are on a low-carb diet, you will need to supplement your electrolyte intake with an electrolyte drink.
Electrolytes are essential for our health and well-being, yet many people don’t know what they are or the importance of keeping a healthy electrolyte balance. By understanding what electrolytes do and how to keep them in balance, we can all take steps towards better health.