Why Electrolytes are Important for Performance
Anyone that knows anything about anything will likely know the importance of water in our body before, during and after exercise, as well as at any other time of day for that matter. However, what is not as commonly known is the role of electrolytes in maintaining performance. So, what are electrolytes and what do they do?
What Are Electrolytes?
Well, electrolytes are miniscule particles that carry electrical charges. They serve numerous roles to help maintain proper bodily functions such as keeping your muscles and organs working properly. Some out there do claim fully functioning muscles and organs are crucial during exercise. Not going to argue with that.
Electrolytes are salts of various types that are lost along with water when we sweat. Each salt plays different, critical roles: sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium and potassium are the most common electrolytes found in the human body.
- Sodium (‘Na’ if we’re being scientific) is crucial in maintaining fluid balance, muscle contractions, nerve function and acid-base balance. Yep, old mate sodium is a hard worker and a lack of it can lead to muscle cramps (not ideal…).
- Potassium (K), alongside sodium, helps to alleviate muscle cramps. Thankfully the average person has high levels of potassium stores within their body. Good on ya’ potassium.
- Magnesium (Mg) helps your muscles to relax, and whilst relaxed muscles might sound counter-intuitive to exercise, healthy relaxation and contraction of muscles is essential to peak performance.
- Talking of contractions…hello calcium: Calcium (Ca) works alongside magnesium to help with the contraction part of your muscles. However, it’s also essential for bone health and impacts upon the metabolism of crucial nutrients, fancy hey?
How to Get Electrolytes
‘How can you take in electrolytes?’ we hear you cry…
Well, the good news is electrolytes are found naturally in many foods. Fruits and veg like bananas, avocado and sweet potato are high in potassium, seeds and nuts in magnesium, dairy products and green leafy veg in calcium…the list could go on.
However, if you’re into endurance events and need electrolytes ‘on the go’ as such and don’t fancy eating a three-course meal (slight exaggeration), sports drinks or powders can be a great way to get these in and replenish anything lost through sweat. Staminade for instance is high in magnesium, and the powder can be mixed into any fluid to help hydrate and replace electrolytes on the move.
For Australian athletes, or any other athletes in exceptionally warm countries for that matter, it’s particularly important to pay attention to hydration levels and electrolyte levels. The more you sweat the more you need to replace both water and salts. Electrolyte deficiency can often be a dark horse when it comes to hindering performance, so whilst it’s great to ensure you drink loads of water to stay hydrated, make sure you think about how you can replace all those salts lost through sweat as well. There you go, lecture over!
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