What you need to know about electrolytes
Today we’re going to jump into everything you need to know about electrolytes, including what they are, why they’re critical for your health, how to know if you’re getting enough of them, and where to get them from.
What are electrolytes and why do I need them?
To put it simply, in the context of nutrition, electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in your body that are dissolved in your body’s fluids like blood, sweat, and urine that help to carry out essential metabolic processes.
Some of their functions include:
- Maintaining acid-base balance
- Balancing hydration levels
- Helping move nutrients into our cells
- Helping remove waste from our cells
- Helping with muscle recovery
- Stimulating muscle contractions for our heart
- Regulating nerve function
- Helping build new tissues
In nutrition, there are 7 major electrolytes we focus on: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, chloride and bicarbonate.
How do I know if my electrolytes are balanced?
The body works hard to regulate your electrolyte balance. Electrolytes are mainly excreted in your body through urine and sweat which is a normal process. However, there are certain less-common circumstances that can disrupt your electrolyte balances.
Some of these circumstances include:
- Dehydration (can be due to things like excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting)
- Poor Diet (not drinking or eating enough, lack of electrolyte-rich foods)
- Certain diseases/conditions (Kidney Diseases, Congestive Heart Failure, Chronic Respiratory Conditions)
- Certain medications (think: laxatives, diuretics and steroids)
Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of imbalance and which electrolytes specifically are affected. Still, there are common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance that you should be aware of:
These symptoms include:
- Diarrhea or Constipation
- Muscle Cramping and/or weakness
- Numbness and/or tingling pain
- Convulsions and/or seizures
- Mood changes (think: confusion and irritability)
- Irregular Heartbeat (think:
- Excessive Thirst and/or dry mouth
Foods rich in electrolytes
Eating a balanced whole-food based diet and drinking enough water should ensure that your electrolytes are balanced. However, if you work out a lot, have an underlying medical condition or circumstances listed above, or just want to feel good there are electrolyte-rich foods you can add in to your diet.
Food sources of electrolytes:
- Green Leafy Veggies – think spinach, kale & collard greens (great source of calcium and magnesium)
- Lentils (great source of magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus)
- Strawberries (contains potassium)
- Oranges (contains potassium)
- Bananas (contains potassium)
- Coconut Water (good source of sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium)
- Peppers (contains potassium)
- Sweet Potato (contains potassium)
- Green Leafy Veggies
- Salt (it’s pretty hard to be deficient in sodium but it can happen)
Try to include some of these foods daily and see how you feel!
Supplements with Electrolytes
In most cases as long as your diet is in check you won’t need to supplement with electrolytes. That being sad, I find that some of my clients feel better with electrolyte supplementation.
If you are considering trying an electrolyte supplement you should avoid added sugar (hint: don’t fall into the trap of buying sports drinks unless you are doing strenuous activity like running a marathon)!
One of my favorite electrolyte supplements is NUUN hydration and Ultima. Nunn comes in powder or table form and has 50% less sugar compared to most brands, 100% of your daily Vitamin C per serving, and 100% of you daily B12 per serving. Ultima has six electrolytes and trace minerals, all while having zero grams of sugar and no nasty ingredients. Both taste great and helps me drink more water!
Electrolytes may not be the most popular topic, but they sure are important! Make sure to evaluate how you’re feeling along with your diet and lifestyle so you can make sure your electrolytes are balanced.