Electrolytes and Hydration. Do you need a special drink?

Do you find yourself wondering if you are getting enough fluid? Do you need to replenish yourself with electrolytes after playing soccer, hockey, swimming? If so, what should you be having? Is water enough or do you need a sports drink?

What is an electrolyte?

Electrolytes are minerals in the body that are essential for normal body functioning. They play major roles in maintaining our pH levels, water content, muscle functioning and more!

Our kidney and hormones help maintain electrolyte balance in our bodies, common imbalances include too much or too little sodium or potassium. Some symptoms of imbalances include muscle cramping, nausea, muscle fatigue, and confusion. 

Which electrolytes are important for your body?

Sodium – plays a role in blood pressure and nerve functioning

Potassium – important for nerve signalling, fluid balance, and muscle functioning

Bicarbonate –plays a major role in pH regulation

Calcium – important for muscle contraction, bone health, and nerve signalling

Hydrogen phosphate – its involved in pH regulation, protein regulation, maintaining health of bones and teeth, and cell maintenance and repair

Magnesium – important for chemical reactions in the body and enzyme functioning

Chloride – plays an important role in fluid and pH balance in your body

You can find a variety of these electrolytes in a well balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. 

Why is it important to top up your electrolytes in the summer or post activity?

Electrolytes are lost in sweat. Sweating is typically higher in the summer months when our bodies are exposed to the natural heat. When we sweat we lose excess water and sodium. In addition, if you are exercising (in the sun) you are likely losing more sweat and therefore electrolytes too.

  • Replenishing lost electrolytes is important if you are losing them at a faster rate than normal. What is a faster rate than normal? Perhaps playing soccer for 1-1.5 hours on a hot summer day.

Does this mean I need an electrolyte drink post exercise or in the summer?

Not necessarily. In most cases, eating a healthy well balanced diet will ensure you get enough electrolytes to maintain proper body functioning and keep everything in balance.

Sports drinks are typically flavoured drinks that contain electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) along with loads of sugar and calories. If you are worried that you are not getting enough electrolytes based on your level of sweating and activity, consider drinking a natural plant based fluid instead (e.g. coconut water). Something like coconut water can replenish your electrolytes without providing added sugars.

Keep in mind, sports drinks might be appropriate in some cases (e.g. for athletes) but aren’t necessary for everyone.

Bottom line: for most people water and a well balanced diet will be enough to rehydrate and replenish your body. Using thirst as a guide is a great way to ensure you are properly hydrated. If you are thirsty, you likely need a drink (of water). :)

Cheers to warm summer days and staying hydrated,

Angela (Eat Right Feel Right) 

 

References:

Lobo (2004). Fluid, electrolytes and nutrition: physiological and clinical aspects. https://journals-scholarsportal-info.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/pdf/00296651/v63i0003/453_feanpaca.xml

Maughan (1991). Fluid and electrolyte loss and replacement in exercise.

Nordqvist, C (2016). http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php

Skerrett, P. J. (2012). http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/trade-sports-drinks-for-water-201207305079