You always hear about electrolytes when you are involved in exercise that makes you sweat. But what are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are substances that become electrically charged ions when they are in a fluid. There are processes in our bodies that require electrical impulses, and ions are what makes this possible. One of these processes is muscle contraction, something you need to have happen when you are running.
Electrolytes that our bodies need include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium and as long as you eat a healthy diet you will get plenty of those things (some people need a calcium supplement).
When you sweat you lose electrolytes, mostly sodium and potassium. You can lose 1/2 pound to 5 pounds of sweat per hour! One pound of sweat contains 80-100mg of potassium and 400-700mg of sodium. (You can figure out how much sweat you have lost by weighing yourself before you exercise and again after, don’t forget to account for liquids that you ingest.)
If you are dehydrated, you most likely also have an electrolyte imbalance. Muscle cramping is a good sign that you are dehydrated and losing electrolytes. If it is hot and/or humid, or if you are a naturally profuse sweater, you should drink 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes. That is pretty difficult to do, so just be sure to wear a fuel belt or camelbak and drink often.
So, about sport drinks – they contain water, carbs and electrolytes. The carb in this case is glucose which can increase the absorption of water and sodium. Sports drinks also make you thirsty, due to the sodium content, and that will cause you to drink more. That is a good thing.
Sport drinks also contain lots of other stuff that aren’t so great for you, including artificial color and flavor. You can make your own sport drink from coconut water with some sugar and salt in it. If you are sweating a lot, plain water won’t cut it, you’ll be hydrated, but you will be lacking in electrolytes. You will also be diluting your blood, and you’ll be peeing more, which will further deplete your sodium levels.
It’s easy to replace electrolytes after your exercise session. Bananas have about 450mg of potassium, while Gatorade only has 30mg in one serving. But there are some newer products out there that have higher levels of electrolytes, they usually are called “Recovery” drinks. I don’t drink those, they are full of stuff that I don’t know what it is. I drink chocolate coconut water. It has 680mg of potassium!
Today after my 12 mile run I had a can of chicken noodle soup (the vegan kind, there wasn’t any chicken in it). It’s hard for me to eat after a run, and soup goes down easily. So do bananas. If you don’t have trouble eating after a run, you can munch on salted pretzels or crackers, or have some nuts or pickles. Drink water with those, because you will need to rehydrate.
So that is what you should know about electrolytes. Does anyone feel like doing the Electric Slide right now?