Not Just for Athletes: The Importance of Electrolytes

Apr 01, 2019

Electrolytes. 

What are they and why do we need them?

Electrolytes, a term commonly thrown around in regard to sugary sports drinks, are essential minerals in your body including sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride and others.  So called because when dissolved in water (in your body) they conduct electrical current. Not only are these needed for regulating fluid retention, blood pressure and blood acidity, but also for muscle contractility and sending nerve impulses to and from the brain.  Electrolytes are lost through your sweat and urine and can be replenished through food or by supplementation.

 

 

Sodium

-Regulates total amount of water in the body  -Maintains function of the muscular and nervous systems

Potassium

-Regulates heartbeat

-Maintains function of the muscular and nervous systems

-Extremely high or low levels of Potassium can cause irregular heart beating

Magnesium

-Maintains function of the muscular and nervous systems

-Proper function of enzymes

-Formation of bone and teeth

Calcium, muscle contraction, formation of bone and teeth

Bicarbonate, maintains blood pH

Chloride, balances fluids

Phosphate, formation of bone and teeth as well as cell membranes and DNA

 

Imbalances

You may recognize the feeling of electrolyte imbalance if you experience muscle twitching, weakness or irregular heart rhythms.  Left unchecked, this can even lead to seizures.

Electrolytes can be lost in cases of rapid fluid loss such as diarrhea or vomiting. In addition, consuming too much water without proper electrolyte replenishment can lead to a flushing of your electrolytes and thus disturbing the delicate balance of your fluid regulation. 

It is common when people begin to diet that they follow the standard recommendation to drink 8 glasses of water per day.  They find themselves peeing constantly and sometimes experiencing muscle cramps. By flushing out your electrolytes, your body won’t be receiving the signals to retain any water and therefore you may end up dehydrated despite drinking your 100oz of water daily.  Ideal hydration can be observed through the color of your urine which should not necessarily be clear, but rather a medium or dark yellow*, as well as paying attention to signs of low electrolytes like muscle cramping, weakness, spasms or irregular heart beating. 

The rapid “weight” loss that people experience when first starting a keto diet can be attributed to this fluid flushing.

How does this change when you are on the Keto diet or adapting to ketosis?  Consuming carbohydrates signals your kidneys to retain more water.  When you stop in-taking carbs, your kidneys will let go of and not store this water.  The rapid “weight” loss that people experience when first starting a keto diet can be attributed to this fluid flushing.  Those first few pounds that come off are more likely from water than from fat. This can lead to what is known as “Keto Flu” which is nothing more than the negative side effects of electrolyte imbalance (i.e. cramping, muscle spasms, irregular heart rhythm, dizziness due to lower blood pressure and a general feeling of weakness or sickness).

If you are experiencing prolonged symptoms of electrolyte imbalance or dehydration without any obvious cause, you may want to have blood work done to rule out kidney problems or other systemic issues.

 

Maintaining a Balance

So, how do you make sure you are giving your body what it needs during the adaptation to ketosis or while maintaining an active lifestyle where you often sweat?  While there are standard recommended doses for each mineral, these doses may not take into account nutritional ketosis needs or an athletic lifestyle. 

Mineral Sources in Whole Food

Sodium

  • dill pickles
  • tomato juices, sauces, and soups
  • table salt
  • Supplement:  ½ tsp+ himalayan pink salt added to your water*

Potassium

  • potatoes with skin
  • plain yogurt
  • bananas  
  • Supplement:  ¼ - ½ tsp Potassium Citrate added to water*

Magnesium

Calcium

  • yogurt
  • milk
  • Ricotta cheese
  • collard greens
  • spinach
  • kale
  • Sardines
  • Supplement:  Since it is so easy to get Calcium from nutrition, supplementation is not necessarily recommended.*

In summary, it would be preferred to know the signals of fluid imbalance in your own body, learn to recognize these clues and know when it’s time to replenish.  Like I'm always hammering on - listen to your body!   Your body is intelligent and will give you very obvious signals if something is not right.  It's up to you to learn to interpret those clues.  It's typically a good idea to salt your food amply or put a pinch of salt in each large glass of water you drink.  Dehydration from electrolyte flushing can be as bad as a hangover, so it is ideal to stay on top of it through the day. 

 #seekyourhealthyexistence

-Coach Hill

*I am not a medical professional and these recommendations are based on personal experience as well as thorough research.
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