We hear about electrolyte replacement all the time in advertisements for sports drinks, but do you know what they are or why you need to replace them? Chances are you don't, so I'll shed a little light on this subject.
Electrolytes are chemicals in the body that allow your cells to function properly. Electrolytes do many things like regulate muscle contractions, regulate fluid/water movement through the body, allow the cells to generate electricity, and maintain the cell wall structure. Your kidneys work constantly to keep electrolytes in proper balance.
There are a whole host of electrolytes in the body:
* Hydrochloric acid
* Nitric acid
* Sulphuric acid
* Hydrobromic acid
* Hydroiodic acid
* Perchloric acid
* Acetic acid
* Carbonic acid
* Lithium hydroxide
* Sodium Hydroxide
* Potassium Hydroxide
* Rubidium Hydroxide
* Cesium Hydroxide
* Calcium Hydroxide
* Strontium Hydroxide
* Barium Hydroxide
The ones we are most concerned with are sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate.
Sodium is responsible for fluid regulation in the cells. It is very important to the body for proper hydration and functioning of the body's systems. Sodium is also important for the brain, as it regulates electrical activity. Having too much or too little sodium can be either crappy or fatal! Your body is a machine as you have heard before and it is run by electricity. This is a gross oversimplification of the incredibly complex systems in your body, but I like to keep it simple.
Potassium regulates the heartbeat and muscle functions. Improper levels of potassium can negatively affect the nervous system and cause irregular heartbeats.
Chloride is another one that has a profound effect on proper hydration levels. Chloride balance is very closely regulated by your body to ensure optimal functioning.
Finally on our big 4 list is Bicarbonite. Bicarbonite is a buffer for your cells. It works to maintain proper acidity levels in the body.
Your electrolyte balance can be affected by a number of different things like excess sweating, vomiting and diarrhea, eating disorders, and medication intake. Maintaining a proper balance is key to making sure that your body functions at its peak. For our purposes, sodium and potassium are the biggest threats to electrolyte imbalance because they are substantially depleted through excess sweating, as during intense exercise. Since intense exercise is what TPS is all about, it just makes sense that these are the two we should focus the most on.
So if we know what the most important electrolytes are for our purposes (exercise) and we know how we lose them, what's next? Why we need to replace them, of course, is next. If you don't replace electrolytes lost during intense exercise, a number of things could happen: you could see a decrease in sports performance during your workout/game, you could become dehydrated, you could suffer kidney/nerve/cardiac tissue damage, you could remain dehydrated even if you drink water.
Now don't get too nervous here - it is fairly unlikely you will die or suffer permanent damage from a hard sweaty workout, but it is not impossible. There are plenty of TRUE stories of high school wrestlers cutting weight by taking a sauna or exercising in a rubber suit and having kidney failure and/or death as the result. (NOTE: Never never never never wear one of those ridiculous rubber suits during exercise to lose weight, ever). Their coaches should be prosecuted for allowing and encouraging this, by the way. These are tragic and extreme cases, but I use it to illustrate the importance of proper rehydration. Your chances of this happening are slim unless it is very humid or you are exercising very intensely for a long time.
So what are some of the best ways to restore electrolytes to your body after a workout? This is actually easy. Restoring electrolytes after exercise can be done in a number of ways. It could be as simple as grabbing a Gatorade. If you are on a calorie-restricted diet, this is not the best option; Gatorade has a large amount of sugar in it and isn't the best choice for everyone. Coconut water is a great choice, too, and it only has about 6 grams of sugar per cup, much less than a sports drink. Eating a banana or an orange right after your workout is a great idea if it was a particularly sweaty session. The naturally occurring sugar in the fruit is nowhere near as bad for you as the high fructose corn syrup in many commercially prepared sports drinks either.
You can make your own electrolyte replacement drink by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 4 ounces of orange juice with a liter of water. Sure, it's a lot of work but it's better than high fructose corn syrup!
Eating a whole food meal about an hour after exercise that contains broccoli or spinach will help, too. Vegetables are an outstanding source of many micronutrients and you should eat a wide variety of them to make sure you are getting what you need.
I hope that I have shed some light on what electrolytes are, why you need them, and how to replace them, so that your body is ready willing and able to work at its peak.