We’ve all heard that it’s important to maintain our electrolytes, but never hear much about what they are, what they do, or why they’re so essential to our health. Here’s everything you need to know about electrolytes, and a few tips on replenishing them when necessary.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are particles present in our blood, urine, and other bodily fluids that are necessary to the proper function of our cells. They’re critical to your health, as they are the result of the dissolution of minerals from water in your body. Because electrolytes are ions, they are capable of carrying a positive or negative charge. They are also responsible for making sure everything in your body ends up where it needs to. The currents produced by electrolytes are what determines when and where fluids are circulated in the body. Think of them as more than conductors of electricity, and think of them instead in terms of the way a music conductor leads an orchestra – without the conductor, the orchestra doesn’t know when to play, what cues to hit, when to rest, or how to execute a harmonious melody. In maintaining the proper number of electrolytes in your body, several bodily processes are sustained.
When Do I Need Them?
Since we lose most of our electrolytes through sweat, the best time to replenish them is right after an intense workout. Replenishing your electrolytes is just as crucial as consuming protein post-workout.
What Can I Get Them From?
Electrolytes are present in foods that are rich in sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Often times, when your sodium, potassium or calcium levels are unbalanced, your electrolyte levels can be thrown out of whack as well, and you’re at high risk for becoming dehydrated or over-hydrated. Since sodium is the electrolyte we retain the least (especially after a heart-pumping workout), it’s important to consume sodium-enriched foods. Chloride, which finds itself often paired with sodium, is also necessary to replenishing electrolytes – but try to avoid junk food (you don’t want to reverse the effects of your workout, after all), and opt for whole foods like olives, celery and tomatoes. To fulfill your potassium requirement, bananas are an obvious choice – but if you’re searching for greater variety, opt for other fresh and dried fruits, leafy greens and sweet potatoes. Calcium is key for not only vitamins and minerals, but also for protein (which we know is necessary post-workout) – so much so that milk may be your best option after a session at the gym. Last, but certainly not least is magnesium, which you can also get from vegetables and nuts in addition to whole grains.