While lots of attention is often paid to overall hydration, electrolytes tend to get overlooked. We often see them as a supplement we need if we’re sweating a lot or an athlete, but electrolytes are crucial for all of us, no matter the climate we live in or the shape that we’re in. Today, we’re diving into what electrolytes are, what they do for our bodies, and where you can find them in foods and supplements.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are key players in keeping your body functioning properly, but what are they?
Simply put, electrolytes are essential minerals found in your blood, sweat, and urine. When these minerals dissolve, they form electrolytes - positive or negative ions used in metabolic processes. A balance of different electrolytes is vital for maintenance of various bodily processes.
Electrolytes in your body include:
Electrolytes conduct nerve impulses, contract muscles, keep you hydrated, and regulate your body’s pH levels. That’s a lot of jobs, and we’re not even listing everything!
The Roles of Electrolytes
Different electrolytes have different functions. Sodium helps maintain fluid balance, potassium helps prevent cramping, magnesium relaxes muscles, calcium helps regulate muscle contractions and heart rhythm (kind of important!), and bicarbonate might even help delay fatigue when working out. The array of functions that electrolytes provide in the body is staggering. We’re listing a few more below:
Electrolytes directly impact the function of our nervous systems. Sodium is particularly important here, since when sodium moves across the nerve cell membrane, it helps change the electrical charge of the cell membrane. This allows your brain to communicate with cells throughout your body.
Electrolytes are key players in the normal function of your muscles, including contracting and relaxing. Muscle fibers, and therefore large muscle groups, cannot fire properly without electrolytes. When electrolytes are out of balance, things go wrong. As heat and sweat increase, you lose electrolytes. It is important to replace lost electrolytes to maintain athletic performance.
When you sweat, your body loses both fluid and electrolytes. If you don’t begin your workout properly hydrated, and/or you aren’t hydrating properly during your activity, it’s pretty easy to get dehydrated. Symptoms include muscle cramps, fatigue, and poor athletic performance.
Your body's pH balance, also known as your acid-base balance, is delicate.. When your electrolyte levels are out of balance due to dehydration, you experience an acid/base (pH) imbalance. A pH level decrease can cause confusion, fatigue, headache and increased heart rate, while a pH level increase can cause confusion, hand tremors, lightheadedness, muscle spasms, and nausea.
Where to Get Electrolytes
The best way to get electrolytes is through your diet. Drinking plenty of water is a must, but consuming electrolyte-heavy foods is also beneficial. Electrolytes can be found in a variety of foods and beverages, including:
- Bone broth
- Coconut water
- Watermelon water
- Almonds and other nuts
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Potatoes (more potassium than a banana!)
- And so many more!
Yes, bone broth! Bet you weren’t expecting that!
Bone broth contains an array of naturally-occurring electrolytes, including sodium, magnesium, and potassium. It’s also a source of fluid, making it an excellent option for staying hydrated. While people often think that water alone is enough to stay hydrated, your body may not be able to properly utilize all that you’re drinking. You see, water depends on minerals (electrolytes specifically!), for proper absorption. Without these minerals, water is not properly assimilated into the body. Drinking broth throughout the day, or simply adding it to your daily routine, helps to hydrate the body with essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.