When we think electrolytes – we often think of sports drinks ready to replenish a hard workout. But do we really need sugar filled sports drinks for fast hydration? Popular sports drinks tend to contain a lot of sugar, and at times far more than what is necessary.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype of impressive looking sports drinks – but, before you reach for your next post-training thirst quench it’s important to understand what electrolytes are, what natural electrolyte sources you can obtain from the diet and better ways to support healthy electrolytes.
When it comes to hydration, It is often forgotten that electrolytes play a key role in regulating fluid balance in the body. Pure water is half the equation when it comes to hydration – electrolytes then help transport the water into our cells and assist fluid balance, making our cells plump and happy. 2
What are electrolytes?
As the name suggests, electrolytes are minerals that have an electric charge. They can either be positive or negative in that charge when in water - it’s this opposites attract type of scenario. The electrical charge is important because your nerves talk to or signal one another by chemical exchanges reliant on oppositely charged ions inside and outside of cells, this is our nerve communication system.3, 4
Not only do electrolytes assist hydration, these quiet achievers are essential for basic life functions. They play a number of very important roles in the body such as muscle contraction and nerve function. The kidneys play a star role in assisting the balance of these important electrolytes. The human body is very clever at managing this complex process, but it requires support from a healthy lifestyle and diet. 5
We obtain electrolyte minerals from the foods we consume and the fluids we drink. Electrolytes are lost primarily through heavy exercise, sweating and body fluids. 6, 7
The five main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride.
How to support a healthy electrolyte balance
Do you experience muscle cramps or twitching? What you eat and your balance of key minerals and electrolytes plays a fundamental role in muscle health. We all know we should eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, but many of us are still not quite getting the memo. These nourishing foods are key for building up essential electrolytes in the diet and supporting overall health and wellbeing. 6, 8
Avoiding an electrolyte imbalance
For the most part, a balanced diet and lifestyle supports healthy electrolyte status.6 However, certain lifestyle factors may attribute to disturbances in this balancing act. The most common electrolyte imbalances occur from an excess loss of body fluid. Training hard without adequate replenishment or becoming unwell are two examples of excess fluid loss and the potential for electrolyte variance. 7, 9 To put it simply, an electrolyte imbalance is when there are too many or too little electrolytes within the body. The causes of electrolyte imbalance can sometimes be more complex.
As major contributors of fluid balance in the body, electrolytes govern this intrinsic mechanism. Overhydration and dehydration can contribute to electrolyte imbalances. It is very possible to drink too much water as it is to drink too little. 9, 10 Those who exercise in very hot climates for a long period of time should be mindful of fluid and electrolyte balance. Although more rare, over hydration occurs when fluid consumption exceeds the level of available electrolytes in the body. Basically, this occurs when sodium (salt) and other electrolytes are too diluted, or the body has a hard time excreting or holds onto too much water. 10,11
What can disrupt electrolyte balance:
- Dehydration or over-dehydration
- Some medications
- Certain medical conditions
- A poor diet and fluid intake
How to include electrolytes in the diet?
If you work up a sweat, are a frequent flyer, work in the heat or spend a long time in the sun, focusing on key electrolytes in the diet is a good strategy to support electrolyte balance. It’s easy to maintain a healthy electrolyte balance if you eat a wholesome nourishing diet. 6 Here are some examples of different foods that naturally contain electrolytes:
Magnesium: dark leafy greens like spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dark chocolate (80% or higher), avocado, wholegrains such as buckwheat
Sodium: easily obtained in our modern diet, some healthier sources include unrefined salt such as celtic sea salt
Potassium: bananas, watermelon, orange, coconut water
Calcium: dairy such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, or dark leafy greens and sardines to name a few
A food first approach is the key when looking to support electrolyte balance, but with a busy and active lifestyle that’s not always achieved, and sometimes faster electrolyte support is needed. In fact, 92% of Australians do not meet the recommended 5-6 serves of vegetables daily11 – a major source of dietary electrolytes. Supplementing with a good quality electrolyte formula can support hydration and electrolytes. Swisse Ultiboost Magnesium + Hydration powder* contains key electrolytes lost in sweat to help restore electrolyte balance and magnesium citrate to support a healthy stress response and muscle health. Naturally sweetened with stevia and monk fruit sweetener, Swisse Ultiboost Magnesium+ Hydration powder*offers a lower sugar alternative to electrolyte replenishment.
*Always read the label, Follow the directions for use, if symptoms persist talk to your health professional. Supplements may only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate.
Swisse Ultiboost citrus twist
300ml of cold water
1 scoop of Ultiboost Magnesium + Hydration powder (lemon and lime flavour)
½ freshly squeezed lemon and/or lime
½ freshly squeezed orange
A dash of freshly grated ginger and turmeric to taste (optional)
Fresh cucumber strips to garnish
** Optional addition: fresh mint to serve for a refreshing kick
Prepare your water, add 1 serve of Swisse Magnesium + Hydration powder, stir contents. Add the remaining ingredients and enjoy!
- Jung AP et al. Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. J Athl Train. 2005 Apr-Jun; 40(2): 71-75.
- National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. 1989. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi.org/10.17226/1349
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Principles of Nerve Cell Communication. Alcohol Health Res World.1997; 21(2):107-108. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826821/
- Tobias A et al. Physiology, Water Balance. StatPearls Publishing. 2020 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541059/
- Shrimanker I, Bhattarai S. Electrolytes. StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Sep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/
- National Research Council. Water and Electrolytes: 10th Edition. 1989. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234935/
- Shirreffs SM, Sawka MN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2011; 29 Suppl 1:S39-46. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.614269.
- Miller KC et al. Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: causes and treatments. Sports Health. 2010 Jul; 2(4):219-293. doi: 10.1177/1941738109357299
- Sonani B, et al. Hypernatremia. StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Aug. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441960/
- Sahay M, Sahay R. Hyponatremia: A practical approach. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Nov-Dec; 18(6): 760-771. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.141320.
- NIH: National Library of Medicine. Fluid and Electrolyte balance. 2020 Oct. https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
- AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). Poor Diet. 2019. https://www.aihw.gov.au/report...