Why Your Body Needs Electrolytes
You’ve heard about electrolytes, but not sure exactly what they are and what they do. To explain, electrolytes are electrically charged elements that function to stimulate the body’s muscles and nerves. Electrolytes include sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphate. They are located in the blood, urine and other bodily fluids. Electrolytes control the level of fluids in the body, which in turn affects cellular function, blood volume level and blood pressure.
It is important that a balanced level of electrolytes is achieved within the body to ensure that idyllic water levels and bloody acidity levels are maintained. This is vital for athletes as it allows the muscles to function optimally. An electrolyte imbalance changes the amount of bodily fluids thus resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, vomiting, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, muscle cramps, lack of coordination, lack of focus, dizziness, increased body temperature, and kidney issues.
Sweat during exercise causes a loss of electrolytes and risk of dehydration. Therefore, athletes must consume electrolytes found in fluids or food products. Consuming electrolytes decreases the level of water lost in urination. This ensures that the muscles, tissues and nerves are effective in absorbing the bodily fluids when needed.
Electrolytes are found in a range of fluid and food products. Sports drinks such as Staminade, have the correct balance of electrolytes, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and liquids. During prolonged exercise, water alone fails to restore lost electrolytes and causes more frequent urination than electrolyte drinks, therefore, electrolyte drinks are most effective in maintaining optimal bodily fluids. The sodium in electrolyte drinks also encourages fluid intake by stimulating the thirst mechanism in conjunction with enhancing absorption and fluid retention. The potassium found in electrolyte drinks assists in muscle contraction and preventing muscular cramping. Diverse flavours in electrolyte drinks are a vital feature that increases voluntary fluid ingestion.
In addition to electrolyte drinks, electrolytes are also found in fruit and vegetables such as beans, spinach, bananas, carrots, beetroot, apples, oranges, corn, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Other electrolyte rich foods include nuts, seeds and a variety of beans.
Depending on the form of exercise, electrolyte drinks can be consumed before, during and after exercise. It is recommended to consume electrolyte drinks prior to exercise to ensure fluid and fuel stores are at a peak level. During exercise, electrolyte drinks are most effective for activities longer than 90 minutes. Athletes are able to exercise for longer and at a higher level of performance by maintaining bodily fluids and delivering energy to the muscles and brain. Electrolyte drinks should also be used post-exercise for recovery to restore fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat.
In general, endurance athletes must consume approximately 0.5-1 litre of water per hour in the first 60-90 minutes of exercise. After this period of time, electrolytes should be consumed at the same rate with at least 250mg of sodium per 0.5 litre. It is important however that athletes should drink when they are thirsty and do not ignore signals given by the body.
Electrolytes are clearly an important aspect in ensuring specific functions in the body are performing at optimal levels. Electrolytes are thus vital for athletes to reach peak performance in any sport.