You might have noticed that working out or sweating excessively may leave you feeling tired and dehydrated even when you drink plenty of water. This is because sweat isn’t just made of water, it’s also full of electrolytes like sodium. And since plain water doesn’t actually contain electrolytes, you have to replenish your stock with certain juices, foods or supplements.
What Are Electrolytes?
According to Healthline, electrolytes are acids, bases or salts that take on a positive or negative charge when they dissolve in your body fluids (1).
Sodium is the major positive ion in fluid outside your cells. It controls body fluids, blood pressure, muscle and nerve function and helps balance other electrolytes.
Chloride, one of the main minerals in table salt balances the pH in your blood, regulates fluids and is essential to digestion.
Potassium is essential to cardiovascular health, plays a role in nerve transmission, promotes bone health and is necessary for muscle contraction, including heartbeat. Potassium imbalance can lead to potential fatal arrhythmia
Magnesium is necessary for DNA and RNA production, contributes to nerve and muscle function, regulates heart rythym, regulates blood sugar levels and boosts immune function
Calcium is the most important mineral for tooth and bone density. Surprisingly, it also plays a role in nerve impulses, muscle movement and blood clotting
Electrolytes play a role in chemical exchanges, conduct electricity and move electrical charges or signals throughout your body. And so, electrolytes are essential to proper nerve function.
They’re also directly linked to water balance. For example, when your sodium levels get too high, your body signals thirst and your kidneys expel less liquid to direct water back into your blood to dilute the sodium. On the other hand, when sodium levels get too low, your kidneys excrete more water (4).
Causes And Signs Of Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolytes are often lost through vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, kidney problems and when your body processes certain medications. Other causes include alcoholism, liver cirrhosis, heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, eating disorders, severe burns and some forms of cancer (5).
While there are many different kind of electrolytes, the most common source of problems are low levels magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Although most problems are caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance can also occur when you’re overhydrated (6).
Symptoms of imbalance include:
- Fluid retention
- Confusion or sudden change in behavior
- Severe muscle weakness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
These symptoms appear then your electrolytes are either above or under these guidelines (7):
- Calcium: 5–5.5 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97–107 mEq/L
- Potassium: 5–5.3 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
- Sodium: 136–145 mEq/L
How To Maintain Healthy Electrolyte Balance
The best way to get all the nutrients you need is to avoid junk food. Eating a balanced diet full of fresh produce, lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbs will give you all the nutrients you need to keep your body in balance. You can find a list of foods high in magnesium here or high in potassium here.
2. Hold The Salt
Most processed foods contain ridiculously high levels of salt. Surprising sources of sodium includes soda, highly processed desserts, sauces and salad dressing. If you cook all your own food, consider replacing table salt with Himalayan salt, which is chock-full of important minerals.
3. Drink Water
While water may not contain electrolytes, it also plays a role in fluid balance and hydration. Water also makes it easier for your body to reestablish homeostasis when your electrolyte levels are too high.
4. Consider Your Medication
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, talk to your doctor about perhaps changing your prescription, adjusting your diet or taking supplements to compensate and establish proper electrolyte levels.
5. Refuel After Exercise
Replenish you levels after you workout by drinking coconut water or taking an electrolyte-infused smoothie. This will help you avoid muscle fatigue or weakness and promote post-exercise recovery.
6. Take an Epsom Salt Bath
High levels of stress can deplete your body of magnesium. If you experience muscle cramps, trouble sleeping and anxiety, you should consider taking an epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is rich magnesium. Your body actually absorbs magnesium better through its skin than through its digestive system.