Why are electrolytes so important?

With the hot days of summer upon us, understanding the importance of dehydration and electrolytes is more important than ever. Whether you enjoy a long hike taking in the wild flowers, mountain biking an epic backcountry trail, playing 18 holes of golf, or have unfortunately been sick, maintaining electrolyte balance is not only key, it is life critical.

It’s natural for our body to keep our electrolytes in balance. However, with overexertion for extended periods of time or excessively hot conditions, our body can simply get depleted of these key nutrients causing anything from muscle cramps, weakness, irregular heartbeat, confusion and in extreme cases of dehydration, seizures and the possibility of death.

What are the key components of electrolytes?

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphate

They aren't to be ignored!

Each electrolyte component is critical in the delicate electrical function of our overall body including the heart, blood pH, nervous system and muscle function. For example, sodium is found outside of the cells and potassium is found in the cells. Both are important and work together to support fluid balance and blood pressure control.

We not only want to be aware of serious electrolyte disturbances with dehydration, but over hydration with water alone can also potentially lead to cardiac and neurological complications and, unless they are rapidly resolved, result in a medical emergency. Whew! The effects can sound severe but feeding your body with these few key nutrients can be as easy as taking a few sips. Take special note if you're a morning coffee drinker or need a daily caffeine pick-me-up. As a diuretic, caffeine accelerates fluid loss from your body making hydration just that much more important.

Where do you get electrolytes?

The easiest go-to is an electrolyte drink. There are countless options available but they are far from created equal. If you’re in a real pinch it’s ‘ok’ to go with the well known brands from the convenient store. However, it’s best to steer clear of them due to added sugars, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and other lab-produced chemicals. In fact, if you’re exercising hard, they could give you digestive issues. A local bike shop, running or outdoor store will carry a much higher quality product that gives you exactly what you need without all that other overhead for your body to process. The key is to start your activity hydrated and stay hydrated. It’s important to note that heat and exertion are the obvious needs for electrolytes, but the dry winter months can also call for electrolytes when cheering on your favorite football team or skiing the slopes. 

There’s also food sources that give your body the electrolytes it needs every day. Because your body is working constantly to make sure your electrolytes are balanced, it uses those key component nutrients from food too.  It’s easy to get sodium and chloride in your diet, so it's important to make a point to enjoy potassium, calcium and magnesium rich foods.

The key is planning ahead and paying attention to your body because it will tell you when it’s feeling dehydrated with increased thirst, a dry mouth, dark urine, a headache, or even dizziness. So, if you’re planning on exerting yourself outside for the afternoon, enjoy an electrolyte-filled breakfast or snack and have an electrolyte-filled drink available. Remember to stay ahead of hydration by drinking early, drinking often and never forgo drinking because you don't want to be inconvenienced by a pesky bathroom break.

As a lifelong athlete and your Transformational Nutrition Coach, I have the tools to provide valuable education, guidance, and coaching to support your unique journey back to a healthy and active lifestyle. Reach out, let’s work together!

Cheers to an active you!   Annie F., CTNC