As an athlete, you are most likely aware of the importance of providing proper fuel to your body to allow it to function optimally.
A balanced sports diet includes:
But in addition to these macronutrients, electrolytes play a huge role in your performance and general well-being.
You can compare the electrolytes in your body to the oil in your car's engine. The oil does not provide energy to the engine, but it's essential to make it run smoothly. The same way, the electrolytes are essential for the correct function of your organism.
Endurance exercise is long, which represents a greater risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, especially when you exercise in the heat.
When trying to preserve your electrolyte balance, you can use dietary supplements with electrolytes. But first, let's look at what the electrolytes are, why they are important, and what foods are rich in electrolytes.
What are electrolytes?
An electrolyte is a substance that breaks down into ions and becomes electrically conductive once it dissolves. In your body, the electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge that dissolve in your body's fluids, such as blood and sweat.
The essential electrolytes for the optimal function of your body are:
These electrolytes are responsible for various physiological functions, including the nervous system, muscle contractions, and fluid balance.
Functions of individual electrolytes
Sodium is the most represented electrolyte in your sweat, and it's essential for rehydration after exercise. Sodium helps to preserve fluid balance in your body and supports the nervous system.
Potassium is crucial for the correct muscle function, including the heart muscle, and manages heartrate and blood pressure.
Calcium is commonly related to bone health, boosting their strength, but it is also essential to transport nervous signals, muscle contraction, and hormone release.
Magnesium, also responsible for bone health, contributes to the correct functioning of muscles and nerves, and it also takes part in energy production.
These are but a few of the functions performed by the electrolytes in your body, but enough for you to understand how crucial they are in the world of sports nutrition.
Several factors may lead to an electrolyte imbalance in your body:
- excessive sweating,
- consumption of diuretics,
- certain health problems,
- insufficient intake of electrolyes.
Common symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance are:
- muscle cramps,
- irregular heart beat,
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance greatly afflict your endurance.
When you sweat a lot without properly replacing the fluid, the volume of blood decreases, and your heart must work much harder to supply your muscles with oxygen and nutrients. Consequently, your power and endurance drop, which leads to a decrease in athletic performance.
Electrolyte imbalance is often linked to dehydration. But another common reason is hyperhydration. In other words, you drink too much water.
Replacing the lost fluids is crucial, but excessive water consumption may also be harmful. If you drink too much water without a sufficient intake of electrolytes, it can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, in which the level of sodium in your blood falls to dangerously low levels.
To prevent hyponatremia, you must combine a high intake of fluid with a sufficient intake of electrolytes, especially during prolonged exercise in hot conditions when your body loses more fluid than normal.
Source of electrolytes
There is a variety of tasty and nutritious foods that contain electrolytes. Including these foods in your diet will not only provide all the necessary nutrients but also help you to preserve the electrolyte balance in your body.
Let's mention some of these foods:
- sodium: cucumbers, table salt, prosciutto, soup
- potassium: potatoes, bananas, spinach
- calcium: milk and dairy products (yoghurt, cheese), fortified herbal drinks, small sea fish that you can eat with their bones (sardines)
- magnesium: nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals, leafy vegetables (lettuce, kale)
But as your electrolyte loss increases, replacing them with regular food is difficult. In this case, you can use dietary supplements. These are available in the form of effervescent tablets, capsules, or powder. Often they are an integral part of isotonic sports drinks and recovery drinks.
Dietary supplements with electrolytes help you preserve the electrolyte balance in your body, contributing to a more efficient hydration by improving your intestine's efficiency in absorbing fluid.
By replenishing the electrolytes in your body, you also reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps. Preserving electrolyte balance with a correct intake of fluid will delay fatigue and improve your body's efficiency.
Same as nutrition, the electrolytes play a crucial role in your body's performance. Proper hydration and electrolyte balance, among other things, reduce the risk of:
- muscle cramps,
You can find electrolytes in a variety of foods, but as your need for electrolytes increases, regular food is no longer a sufficient source. In this case, dietary supplements are the most practical solution.