What you need to know about electrolyte balance before hitting the trails this summer!

Electrolytes conduct electricity when dissolved in water and are essential for several biochemical processes and life functions.  Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Bicarbonate, Magnesium, Chloride, and Phosphate are all electrolytes, each with their own regulatory functions inside and outside of cells.  The most common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are; anxiety, trouble sleeping, and digestive disorders.  

When it comes to hydration, sodium and potassium are the most talked about and the most commonly imbalanced.  aside from hydration, both are essential in kidney function, muscle contractions, nerve signaling, energy production, and more recently linked to bone health.  

Our bodies were designed to hold on to sodium as it was sparse in the early hunter gatherer days, unlike its counterpart potassium which was abundant in the fresh fruits and vegetables readily available.  

So by design, we hold sodium and let go of potassium.  Sodium intake in today’s diet is up to 7x the daily recommended amount 1300-1500mg (less if over age 50), while potassium struggles to exceed 50% of the recommended daily amount of 4700mg.  This inverse intake is causing us to retain sodium in order to preserve potassium.  Thus increasing fluid retention and possibly spiking blood pressure.  

Is restricting sodium the answer? Not really, healthy active adults, usually don’t have to restrict sodium levels, some may benefit from an increase in dietary sodium.  Especially those who’s exercise sessions can last over 2 hours.  A diet full of healthy fruits and vegetables will ensure potassium levels remain high too. Use caution with sodium only supplements (such as salt tablets) as they can lead to further imbalance and fluid retention. 

For exercise sessions over 2 hours, you may find electrolyte supplementation effective.  Your best electrolyte supplement should contain a balance of Sodium (salt), Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium in that order of priority and concentration.  When in doubt, check the ingredients on the label.  Yogalyte anyone?

In Summary: 

  • Healthy highly-active adults need salt.
  • If supplementing choose a balanced electrolyte drink.
  • Supplementation is usually not needed for exercise sessions under 2 hours with a proper diet and training plan. 
  • Medications and hormone imbalances can cause electrolyte imbalance, always check with your doctor before supplementing. 
  • As an active adult, ensure your diet is packed full of potassium rich foods such as: dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash, and avocados.

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