What do you think of when you hear the word “electrolyte”? Most likely what comes to mind is sugary, expensive and popular sports drinks. They claim to provide us with necessary electrolytes to power us through workouts and keep us hydrated. But what is an electrolyte? Why do you need them? What happens when we have an electrolyte imbalance? Let’s dive in!
An electrolyte is a chemical in the body that regulates bodily functions. They include sodium, calcium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium. Your nerves and muscles depend greatly on these chemicals doing their job and staying in a normal concentration range on the inside and outside of your cells!
Essentially, these electrolytes are responsible for maintaining fluid balance in your body, they play a vital role in muscle contraction (including your heart!), and some also play a role in building protein. This is why you need them. Without calcium and sodium, your muscles will not contract, and you definitely won’t be having a very good workout that day if that’s the case.
So what causes an electrolyte imbalance? Generally a loss of fluid will be the culprit. Loss of fluid can be from sweating or from being sick. This can lead to muscle spasms, weakness, lethargy, and some other serious side effects. Not good!
The good news is, if an electrolyte imbalance occurs due to working out, it’s relatively easy to restore your body back to normal. Yes, those sports drinks will help, but they aren’t the BEST source to replace electrolytes. Food such as bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, and pineapple are all great sources to maintain electrolytes.
We take in a lot of these electrolytes every day through the food we eat. Imbalances happen but if you maintain a healthy diet and constant fluid intake throughout the day, with small sips of water or sports drink during your workout, your electrolytes will be balanced and happy!
By Jared Bradford