When you think of electrolytes, you probably aren’t alone if you visualize some kind of unnaturally blue sports drink passed out in little paper cups at road races and other types of athletic events. Fortunately, most electrolytes come in much more natural sources!

But why should you care about electrolytes in the first place? the truth is, whether you’re running your first 5k or simply trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle, making sure you’re getting enough of these little guys into your diet is essential.

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Understanding Electrolytes :
What They Are & Why Your Body Needs Them

 

Electrolytes are types of minerals that play a variety of important roles in the body. The following four electrolytes are the most important:

– Magnesium: necessary for nerve and heart function, a healthy immune system, and adequate bone density
– Potassium: critical for maintaining a good heart rate and blood pressure
– Calcium: the champion of bone density, it’s also necessary for proper nerve conduction, blood coagulation (clotting), and muscle contraction
– Sodium: a major player in proper nerve and muscle function


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When we’re deficient in any of these electrolytes, a variety of bodily systems begin to malfunction. This may lead to a variety of symptoms including:

– Headaches
– Muscle cramps
– Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
– Shakiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness
– Constipation
– Bloating

What causes an electrolyte deficiency or imbalance in the first place? Electrolytes are excreted from our bodies after excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and general dehydration is also another major cause. Electrolyte imbalances can also occur due to things like a medication side effects or a significant illness or injury (like a burn).

Active people are at a particular risk for electrolyte imbalance when they are working out in the summer, where the heat can cause them to sweat even more than usual.

2 Ways to Maintain an Adequate Electrolyte Imbalance

When you’re drinking a lot of water, you should make sure that you’re getting in plenty of electrolytes too so that they don’t get flushed out excessively:

1) Use sea salt.

When you’re eating a healthy diet that is mostly comprised of natural foods (and, by default, not a lot of processed junk), you don’t really have to worry about consuming too much salt. Of all the electrolytes, salt (sodium) certainly has gotten the worst rep.
So, no, don’t go overboard, but feel free to add salt as a flavoring to your meals. We love a pinch of sea salt in a glass of cold water first thing in the morning—uber-hydrating!

Electrolytes2) Eat whole foods.

The known “good for you” foods like leafy greens, veggies, nuts, and fish are a rich source of electrolytes. If you don’t have an adverse reaction to dairy, you may want to try cottage cheese, kefir, and hard cheeses.

So stock your fridge with electrolyte-rich foods this summer, keep your water bottle close, and share this article with your other active friends who plan on spending some time sweating in the sun!

Sara M

Author Sara M

Sara M. is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and freelance writer living and working near Boston, MA. As a former CrossFit gym owner and current fitness lover, Sara has a lot of personal and professional experience inside and outside the gym. She loves to write about various topics related to health, wellness, nutrition, human behavior, and self-mastery.

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