What are Electrolytes? Here’s How They Keep You Moving

what are electrolytes

Electrolytes are a crucial part of what sets sports drinks apart from regular water. When you sweat, your body loses electrolytes. These electrolytes are essential to the proper nervous system and muscle function.

Because regular water can not replenish electrolytes, you have to do so through another food or beverage (like sports drinks). Fortunately a healthy diet probably already provides you with an adequate amount of electrolytes, and many people do not pay special attention to their electrolyte intake.

However, if you are exercising frequently and for extended periods of time, you may need to keep an eye on your electrolytes to limit cramping and other complications.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals, many of which you are already familiar with including:

  • Bicarbonate
  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Potassium
  • Sodium

While many of these minerals are found in the food you are already eating as a part of a nutritious diet. If you lose a significant amount of these minerals when you are sick, either through vomiting or diarrhea, you will likely need to make a special effort to replenish electrolytes.

Are Sports Drinks a Good Source of Electrolytes?

Sports drinks all claim to be a great source of electrolytes – it is often a driving factor in their marketing. However, many sports drinks contain an abundance of sugar. Pay attention to this on the label and look for low sugar alternatives that also pack electrolytes.

Many sources do not recommend drinking sports drinks at all unless you are exercising for at least an hour or more.

Signs Your Body is Lacking Electrolytes

When you are vomiting or not feeling well, the last thing you want is to make the situation worse by having your body drained of electrolytes. This can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle cramps, and an overall feeling of low energy.

This is why after vomiting many people drink sports beverages to not only rehydrate but also regain many of their lost electrolytes. Again, pay attention to the sugar in these beverages, but the right drinks can be a great choice for when you are recovering from sickness.

Is Salt/Sodium Actually Healthy?

Though sodium may be a crucial electrolyte, many foods Americans eat are already providing them plenty of sodium. In most cases, it’s actually necessary to reduce sodium consumption.

Sodium does help regulate the fluid levels in your body, but you need so little of it to complete this function that many individuals do not need to think about adding sodium to their diet.