Electrolytes are essential minerals that produce positive or negative electrical charges when dissolved in liquid, hence the name electro-lytes. They are vital to many key functions in the body so we must consume them daily through our nutrition.
The five major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride. They all work together in regulating fluid balance, in addition to maintaining the body’s pH level, supplying nutrients to the cells, and transmitting electrical signals to power your nerves and muscles.
An electrolyte imbalance can happen when the amount of water in your body changes, typically as fluid is lost via urine and sweat. This is why you usually hear about electrolytes in the context of sports performance. We lose large amounts of electrolytes (specifically sodium and chloride) in our sweat, so athletes must prioritize hydration with electrolyte drinks to avoid muscle cramps and decreased performance.
The importance of electrolytes goes well beyond the athletic setting, though. Our bodies require adequate fluids and electrolytes every day for optimal health. Imbalances can occur from dehydration, illness, nutrient malabsorption and even aging. Here are three essential reasons to incorporate more electrolytes into your daily routine.
Every day, the fluids we take in must match or exceed the amount of fluids lost to create fluid balance. This is how we achieve hydration. On a micro level, water must be balanced inside and outside each cell in your body. Electrolytes, specifically sodium and potassium, help maintain fluid balance with osmosis. This is an example of how homeostasis prevents cells from bursting or shriveling up. It also determines how much water our bodies retain or eliminate based on total electrolyte levels.
Excessive water intake can create an electrolyte imbalance and cause overhydration. This may result in dangerously low sodium levels and threats to your health. The best action you can take is paying attention to your urine color. If you notice your urine looking transparent (clear-colored) you should slow down on your water drinking. Adding in electrolytes will help balance fluid levels and create the light-yellow colored urine necessary for optimal hydration status.
Your brain communicates with the cells throughout your body by way of nerve cells. It sends nerve impulses, or electrical signals, to the nerve cells and electrolytes are what help generate these signals. So, to put it simply, electrolyte balance ensures high functioning nerve cells. We need this to happen for a high functioning brain!
When electrolyte levels become too low, neurological issues such as confusion, headaches, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps may occur. Research has shown that even the slightest bit of dehydration can affect brain function. Even memory and attention span are diminished when our electrolytes are imbalanced. Adequate levels of sodium, potassium and magnesium are key to support the nervous system.
Electrolyte levels also play a large role in maintaining a healthy heart due to their influence on blood pressure. As mentioned, adequate levels of sodium and potassium regulate fluid balance inside and outside of your cells. This supports blood flow and keeps blood pressure in a healthy range. Higher potassium levels are associated with lower blood pressure; however, most people struggle to meet the recommended 4.7 grams per day. This may contribute to higher blood pressure and heart problems if left unattended.
Magnesium is another important heart-supportive electrolyte. It helps regulate your heartbeat, influence blood vessel relaxation, and reduce inflammation. Like sodium and potassium, magnesium plays a key role in generating electrical impulses. These signals are essential to your cardiovascular health.
You may be wondering how to ensure you are getting enough electrolytes. The first step is following a balanced diet, with a variety of healthy foods. It is helpful to know some of the top sources of electrolyte-packed foods. They include:
Sodium—pickles, olives, salted nuts, pretzels
Potassium—bananas, potatoes, beans, dark leafy greens
Magnesium—avocados, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, spinach
Calcium—dairy, tofu, sardines, almonds, broccoli
Chloride—seaweed, olives, tomatoes, celery
Sometimes we don’t have access to these foods each day, so it can be challenging to meet your daily electrolyte needs. Additionally, decades of agricultural practices have depleted our soil of minerals which directly affects the foods we eat. Our crops do not contain the same amounts of minerals as they once did, making nutrient deficiencies possible even while following a nutritious diet.
Fortunately, an electrolyte beverage such as PNG Electrolytes Balanced Hydration Drink Mix solves this problem. This is a simple and effective way to ensure you are meeting your needs and supporting your quest to optimal health. PNG Electrolytes includes sodium, potassium, and magnesium to provide hydration for exercise and everyday life. The minimal sugars and calories make it an excellent choice to sip on while you work or complete your daily errands.
Stay hydrated friends!
Contributed by: Brooke Wyatt, Board-Certified Sports Dietitian of Long Game Nutrition www.longgamenutrition.com
American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka MN, Burke LM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):377-390. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597
Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011;32(1):71-79. doi:10.1002/hbm.20999
Kostov K, Halacheva L. Role of Magnesium Deficiency in Promoting Atherosclerosis, Endothelial Dysfunction, and Arterial Stiffening as Risk Factors for Hypertension. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018; 19(6):1724. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms19061724
Jackson SL, Cogswell ME, Zhao L, et al. Association Between Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Blood Pressure Among Adults in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2014. Circulation. 2018;137(3):237-246. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.029193
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