By Jenevieve Roper PhD (ABD), CSCS (@JLynnFit)
We have all heard of electrolytes, but what exactly are they? Well, they are ions that carry charges and help ensure that your body is functioning properly. When there are too few or too many, some of your metabolic processes can get out of whack and cause problems. That’s why it’s vital to keep your electrolytes in check and replenish before, during, and after exercise to ensure you are problem-free.
Now when I’m talking about electrolytes, for the most part I’m talking about calcium, sodium, potassium, and, to a lesser extent, magnesium. There are some other elements that can be considered electrolytes, but calcium, sodium, and potassium play very important roles in several metabolic processes, and deficiencies in these can lead to very serious illnesses. Even mild deficiencies can impair performance greatly, as each of these can lead to impaired muscle contraction and even muscle cramps.
Sweating It Out
Electrolyte losses typically occur as we sweat. When exercising at a high intensity or in the heat, sweat rates can double and cause even greater electrolyte losses. If you’re one of the many who carry around a gallon of water, it’s possible that you are starting off with a low reserve of electrolytes. During fitness competitions, for example, this can lead to disaster. Fortunately, there is a way to properly rehydrate and avoid pesky muscle cramps, which can slow you down in the weight room or cripple you on stage.
The Importance of Replenishing
According to Health Canada, the suggested daily sodium intake is about . When cutting and leaning out, however, most of us remove salt from our diet. While this can be good in many aspects, if you aren’t taking in much in the way of electrolytes and drinking large amounts of water on a regular basis, you could be leaving yourself exposed. My advice? Use a pinch of salt here and there throughout the day to make sure you are at least getting some.
Before and after exercise are really the times where you can go off your diet in terms of sodium. Now, I’m not saying go crazy, but this is the time to indulge just a bit (not cheat meal status, though!). Because our bodies can lose a lot of sweat during high-intensity exercise, it may be a good idea to increase your salt intake 60 minutes prior to your workout.
How To Rehydrate
This is where you can get a little creative. You can drink a Gatorade or some other sports drink, or you can make your pre-workout meal a mini cheat meal that is higher in salt content. My guilty pre-workout pleasure? A small portion of French fries. The salt gives me electrolytes, and the carbs are readily available for fuel when I exercise – it’s like I almost get the best of both worlds! When trying to watch the calories, my go-to is Emergen-C. It’s low in calories and has a good amount of electrolytes to help me replenish.
During exercise, the best thing you can do is rehydrate with a sports drink. I recommend eight to 12 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. You can also use some sports gels, which are great for replenishment as well.
If you are adding heat to your workout equation, these tips become even more important, especially now that we’re in the dog days of summer. Follow them, and you can be sure you’ll make it to the end of your sets happier and healthier than before.
Jenevieve Roper is a writer and health expert who is keen on busting many of the myths that prevail in the fitness world.