What are electrolytes and why do we need them? Check out our extensive guide on electrolytes, what they do for our bodies, and how to keep them balanced.
When we sweat, our bodies don’t just lose water. They also lose essential electrolytes. If we don’t replace electrolytes after we’ve lost them, we are likely to experience some pretty unpleasant symptoms, such as more frequent muscle cramps, irritability, blood pressure changes, and fatigue.
If you’re silently asking “what are electrolytes?” that’s OK! A lot of people don’t understand what electrolytes are and what they do. So let’s learn about these important substances, why our bodies need them, and how drinking electrolyte powders (such as Herhydration) can help us rehydrate faster than water alone.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are substances that are either negatively or positively charged when dissolved in water. Almost every single cell in your body has electrolytes, and that’s a good thing! Though they’re small, electrolytes are mighty and facilitate a wide variety of bodily functions. Your body needs electrolyte balance to do the following:
Regulate various chemical reactions in the body
Keep body fluids balanced
Contract the muscles
Remove waste products
Keep the heart and brain functioning properly
Regulate nerve impulses
If the body’s electrolyte levels become imbalanced, bodily functions stop working optimally. That’s why it’s really important to keep an eye out for symptoms of electrolyte imbalance and make sure you replenish electrolytes after every workout or illness. A mild fluid imbalance may not be a big cause for worry, but moderate to severe electrolyte imbalance is very serious and can lead to severe dehydration, kidney failure, and even death.
Electrolytes in the body have different tasks. The major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, and chloride. Phosphate, magnesium, calcium, and bicarbonates are also electrolytes. Let’s talk about the different electrolytes and what they do for the human body.
Sodium is one of the most important electrolytes. It helps regulate the absorption of nutrients across the cell membrane and is responsible for keeping extracellular fluid volumes in check. Sodium is the most plentiful electrolyte in the human body. Balanced sodium intake is essential, as too much or too little can cause confusion, mood changes, and seizures. In severe cases, extreme sodium losses could lead to coma.
Whenever an ion of sodium enters one of your cells, an ion of potassium leaves. The opposite is also true. By functioning in this way, potassium and sodium help to balance each other out so there isn’t too much of one or the other in each cell. Potassium is especially important to your heart function. Too much or too little potassium can lead to heart problems.
Athletes need more potassium than people who live inactive lifestyles. This is because active muscles require more potassium to contract and relax normally. Athletes’ cells also need more potassium to keep them energized and improve performance. Eating plenty of vegetables is a great way to boost potassium levels.
Chloride (a chlorine ion) is second in volume only to sodium. It helps the cells maintain balance in their external and internal fluid levels. Chloride is essential for maintaining pH balance. Too much chloride can contribute to kidney disease and other kidney problems. Insufficient chloride is associated with alkalosis, which happens when the body becomes too alkaline.
In addition to the major electrolytes mentioned above, there are several other electrolytes your body needs to function properly. They include:
Your cells need magnesium to convert nutrients into useful energy. Magnesium is especially helpful for optimal brain and muscle function. Too much or too little magnesium can lead to decreased ability to breathe, heart arrhythmias, and muscle weakness.
Calcium has long been valued for its ability to build strong teeth and bones. But it’s also responsible for managing heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and transmitting nerve signals. Calcium levels need to be balanced or problems arise. Too much calcium can lead to headaches, constipation, joint pain, and frequent urination. Too little calcium can cause confusion, loss of muscle control, and behavior changes.
Phosphate helps the body metabolize nutrients. It’s also a key component of nucleotides (which are DNA building blocks). Phosphate is a phosphorous-based molecule that can cause unwanted symptoms when imbalanced (such as excessive itching, kidney damage, reduced heart function, and seizures).
Bicarbonate is created when the body recycles some of the carbon dioxide in your body. Bicarbonate helps to keep blood pH levels in the normal range. If the blood pH levels become imbalanced, it can be dangerous to your health.
Too much acidity in the blood can happen when there isn’t enough bicarbonate in the body. This condition is also known as metabolic acidosis. Acidic blood leads to nausea, fatigue, confusion, and faster breathing. Too little blood acidity (also known as alkalosis) can lead to muscle twitching, arrhythmias, and confusion.
Where Do You Get Electrolytes?
Electrolytes come from the foods and beverages we consume. Electrolytes and hydration go hand-in-hand. Good hydration is essential for maintaining optimal electrolyte concentration in the blood. If hydration seems like a chore to you, try flavoring your water with fresh fruit, cucumber slices, and/or electrolyte powder (such as Hertime). When water tastes good, hydration becomes enjoyable!
What Causes Electrolyte Imbalance?
Any time you lose a lot of bodily fluids (from illness, vigorous exercise, or sweating due to excess heat), you experience electrolyte loss. Electrolyte depletion is closely linked to dehydration. If you’re not drinking enough fluids and you go into dehydration, your electrolyte concentration is likely off. Certain electrolyte disorders, diseases, or medications can also lead to electrolyte imbalances.
How Many Electrolytes Do You Need?
Normal electrolyte levels in the blood are as follows:
You can order an electrolyte panel to determine your blood electrolyte levels. Electrolyte tests can also measure the number of electrolytes in your stool or urine.
How Do You Replenish Electrolytes?
If your electrolyte levels are low, you can replenish them by drinking water (especially electrolyte water), and eating foods that contain a lot of water and electrolytes. Here are some of the best foods for electrolytes:
Eating these foods and drinking electrolyte beverages or taking electrolyte supplements when needed can help you meet your goal of staying hydrated and maintaining optimal blood pH balance.
How Do I Know if I’m Low on Electrolytes?
Most people occasionally deal with electrolyte imbalances. The most common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include:
Shortness of breath
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Bloating and/or swelling
Muscle weakness and twitching
Serious electrolyte imbalances can cause rapid blood sugar changes, seizures, and an increased risk of death.
What Is the Best Electrolyte Drink?
If you’re looking for the best electrolyte drink to keep your body hydrated and your electrolyte levels balanced, don’t reach for sports drinks! They are practically bursting with sugar (which is a dehydrating ingredient!) So skip the sports drinks and reach for milk or Herhydration when you need to boost your electrolytes.
Herhydration is an excellent choice because it contains sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It’s also flavored with stevia and organic fruit instead of sugar. Just mix a packet with a glass of water and enjoy the amazing taste while your body enjoys the invigorating effects of electrolyte replenishment.
While you’re here, check out our Mixhers resources. You’ll find invaluable information on subjects like hydration, your monthly cycle, and food cravings. You’re welcome!
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