If you care about feeling and performing your best, you may already know that water isn’t enough on its own to keep your body hydrated. Today’s water is over-purified and lacks the natural electrolytes that we used to consume in our daily lives. These electrolytes are essential to maintaining basic bodily functions, but what are electrolytes and why do you need them to stay healthy?
What Are Electrolytes?
Most people have heard of electrolytes -- after all, with so many commercials for sports drinks on your television, it’s hard not to hear about them at least in passing. However, few people understand the role that electrolytes actually play in the body and how important they are.
Electrolytes are charged minerals that carry either a positive or negative charge and conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are found in all different areas of the body, including the cells, muscles, bones, and organs.
People need to take in the required amounts of each electrolyte in order to maintain proper function in the body, and without adequate intake, deficiency can occur. Electrolytes are primarily lost through sweat, blood, urine, and other bodily fluids.
The body counts on electrolytes to perform a number of significant functions, including:
The Roles Electrolytes Play in Our Bodies
As noted above, electrolytes are essential for performing a number of different functions in our bodies. Some electrolytes are involved in hundreds of different chemical reactions that keep us healthy.
Keeping us hydrated.
One of the most significant roles that electrolytes play is keeping us hydrated.
Electrolytes influence our hydration levels in a number of different ways, including by directing water to different parts of the body that need it and helping to maintain the right balance of fluids both inside and outside of the cells through a process called osmosis. In osmosis, water moves from one side of the cell membrane, where the mixture of electrolytes is more diluted, to the other side, where electrolytes are more concentrated.
When electrolyte levels are balanced, osmosis prevents the cells from becoming too full of water or losing too much water.
When our bodies are low on electrolytes, dehydration follows quickly because our bodies are not able to regulate the amount of water leaving the cells and the body as a whole.
Although dehydration can be caused by not consuming enough water, it can also be caused by an electrolyte imbalance.
Powering our nervous system.
The body uses electrolytes to help facilitate the delivery of messages from the brain to the cells and vice versa, essentially powering our nervous system. The brain communicates with the cells by sending electrical signals to nerve cells in the body. These electrical signals occur when changes to the electrical charge of the nerve cell membrane are made.
Without an adequate supply of sodium and other electrolytes, the body’s nervous system cannot function properly.
Sodium, one of the major electrolytes in the body, causes these changes to occur by moving across the nerve cell membrane, setting off a chain reaction of other sodium ions.
Contracting our muscles.
A number of different electrolytes play an important role in contracting our muscles, including calcium.
Without an adequate supply of electrolytes, the muscle fibers cannot slide together and move over each other to allow the muscles to shorten and contract.
Having an adequate supply of magnesium is necessary in order to allow the muscle fibers to slide outward, which lets the muscles lengthen and relax after contracting.
Regulating our pH.
In addition to performing the above functions, electrolytes also help regulate the body’s internal pH. The body must maintain a pH of between 7.35 to 7.45 in order to avoid becoming too acidic or alkaline, which can cause bodily functions to fail.
Bicarbonate is particularly important when it comes to maintaining the body’s normal pH, as it acts as a chemical buffer to minimize changes in the internal environment.
The Electrolytes You Should Know About
There are seven major electrolytes that are naturally found in the human body, each of which is extremely important in order to maintain hydration and keep the body functioning properly. The seven major electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, calcium, and bicarbonate.
Sodium plays an essential role in maintaining the right balance of fluids in the body, making it one of the body’s most important electrolytes. In addition to playing a significant role in maintaining hydration levels, sodium is also needed to ensure that the muscles and nerves function correctly.
Sodium is naturally obtained through the diet, so most people don’t need to supplement their sodium intake unless they are heavy or salty sweaters or are working outdoors in the heat for long hours. Although sodium does occur naturally in some foods, most people get the majority of their sodium from processed foods in the United States. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that the top six sources of sodium in the U.S. diet include breads and rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soup, and burritos and tacos.
When people are deficient in sodium, a condition called hyponatremia can occur. Hyponatremia occurs when the sodium in the body becomes diluted, causing water levels to rise in the body and the cells to begin to swell. Signs of hyponatremia include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, loss of energy, restlessness, drowsiness, irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, and cramps. In severe cases, hyponatremia can cause seizures, coma, or even death. Hyponatremia most commonly occurs from drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes.
While having too little sodium in your system can cause dehydration and other scary symptoms, having too much sodium can also be problematic. Having excess sodium can cause increased water retention that makes you feel puffy and bloated, but it can also put you at risk of serious health conditions like heart failure, high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, stroke, stomach cancer, and enlarged heart muscle.
About 80 percent of the body’s potassium is stored in the cells of the muscles, while the red blood cells, liver cells, and bone cells contain the remaining 20 percent.
Potassium is needed by the body in order to maintain proper hydration levels, but it is also essential in order to allow the muscles to properly contract, which is why the majority is stored in the muscles. The body also relies on potassium to help the nerves send and receive signals properly.
An estimated 98 percent of Americans do not receive an adequate amount of potassium from their diet, primarily because potassium is naturally found in foods like fruits and vegetables that many Americans don’t eat enough of. However, potassium deficiency is usually the result of chronic diarrhea or chronic vomiting rather than inadequate intake. Common sources of potassium include bananas, oranges, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, mushrooms, and leafy greens, among other fruits and vegetables.
Potassium deficiency is known as hypokalemia. Although it most commonly occurs from chronic vomiting or diarrhea, it can also be caused by excessive sweating and blood loss. Common signs of hypokalemia include weakness and fatigue, muscle cramps and spasms, digestive problems, heart palpitations, muscle aches and stiffness, tingling and numbness, breathing difficulties, and mood changes.
Most people are familiar with chloride in the form of table salt, which is made up of a combination of sodium and chloride. Chloride is another crucial electrolyte that is needed in the right quantities in order for the body to function properly.
The electrolyte is needed to maintain a balance of fluid in the body, as it regulates the amount of fluid both inside and outside of the cells. Additionally, chloride also helps to regulate blood pressure, maintain proper blood volume, and maintain the proper pH of body fluids.
While most people get the majority of their chloride from the use of table salt, it can also be found naturally in vegetables like seaweed, tomatoes, lettuce, olives, rye, and celery.
Most people receive enough chloride naturally through their diets, but deficiency can occur when the body rapidly loses a lot of fluids through heavy sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting. People taking diuretic medications may also be at risk of experiencing chloride deficiency. Symptoms of chloride deficiency, or hypochloremia, include fluid loss, weakness or fatigue, diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration, and difficulty breathing. It is commonly accompanied by hyponatremia, or low blood sodium. It is also possible to have too much chloride in the blood. When this occurs, it is usually a sign that the kidneys are not functioning properly rather than excess chloride intake.
Magnesium is one of the most important electrolytes because it is needed in order to conduct more than 600 different cellular reactions. Although magnesium is an incredibly important electrolyte, about two thirds of Americans do not receive an adequate amount of magnesium through their diets alone.
Among the many functions that magnesium is used to perform include DNA production, maintaining a regular, healthy heartbeat, supporting healthy brain function, and regulating muscle contractions. Magnesium is naturally found in foods like pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, black beans, potatoes, brown rice, and yogurt.
Magnesium deficiency, or hypomagnesemia, can be caused by inadequate dietary intake or magnesium loss. Because magnesium affects so many different chemical reactions in the body, the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are varied. Common symptoms include muscle twitches and cramps, mental disorders, osteoporosis, fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, asthma, and irregular heartbeat. A magnesium deficiency can also cause the cells of the muscles, heart, and brain to become overstimulated, which can result in permanent damage or cause stroke or heart failure.
Phosphate is a form of phosphorus. The body contains both charged and uncharged phosphate, with the uncharged phosphate, which is stored in the bones, making up about 85 percent of the phosphate in the body. The remaining 15 percent of the body’s phosphate is charged and is found in the cells.
Phosphate is essential for the formation of strong bones and teeth, and it also plays a vital role in energy production. The body also uses phosphate as a building block for substances that the body uses to create energy, build cell membranes, and manufacture DNA.
Phosphate is commonly found in foods like yogurt, milk, salmon, scallops, cheese, chicken, lentils, beef, and potatoes.
Phosphate deficiency is relatively uncommon but can occur when people have a poor diet or an eating disorder, as well as certain medical conditions. Symptoms of a phosphate deficiency include bone problems, such as weak or fragile bones, loss of appetite, anxiety, irregular breathing, joint stiffness, weakness, fatigue, irritability, numbness, and changes in body weight.
Calcium is most commonly discussed in relation to its role as a component of strong bones and teeth. However, calcium is also an important electrolyte. Most people are familiar with the importance of calcium as it pertains to developing strong bones and teeth, but calcium’s role as an electrolyte is less well known.
The body uses calcium in its electrolyte form to help the blood circulate properly, keep the muscles moving as they should, and release hormones regularly. Calcium also plays a key role in delivering messages from the brain to the body. About 99 percent of calcium is found in the bones and teeth, but the remaining one percent is found in the cells.
Calcium is commonly found in foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, baked goods and other items made with fortified flour, and beverages with added calcium.
Calcium deficiency, or hypocalcemia, may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. As the deficiency becomes more advanced and prolonged, symptoms are more likely to appear. Common symptoms of calcium deficiency include confusion, memory loss, muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face, depression, hallucinations, muscle cramps, weak and brittle nails, and easily fractured bones. Severe calcium deficiency can cause seizures in people who are otherwise healthy.
Bicarbonate is one of the lesser known electrolytes in the body, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Bicarbonate is primarily used in order to maintain the correct pH balance in the body, but it also works closely with other electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride. When working with other electrolytes, bicarbonate helps to maintain electrical neutrality within the cells.
Bicarbonate can be obtained naturally through dietary sources like bananas, potatoes, and spinach.
Bicarbonate deficiency can have dangerous health consequences because bicarbonate is needed to maintain the body’s pH balance. If an imbalance of pH occurs, it is possible for people to develop potentially dangerous conditions like acidosis or alkalosis, which can lead to serious health problems. The kidneys are responsible for regulating the concentration of bicarbonate in the blood.
Electrolyte Imbalances and Deficiencies
Who’s Most at Risk?
Electrolyte imbalances can happen to anyone, but some people are more at risk of experiencing an electrolyte imbalance or deficiency than others.
Elderly people and young children are considered to be at high risk of experiencing electrolyte imbalances and deficiencies because they may have difficulty taking in the appropriate amount of electrolytes to meet their needs.
Children are smaller than adults and metabolize fluids and electrolytes more quickly, so it is difficult for them to take in enough electrolytes. Children often get sick with vomiting and diarrhea, which can quickly cause an electrolyte imbalance in small children.
By contrast, older adults are more likely to experience electrolyte imbalance than younger adults for several reasons. First, kidney function often begins to decline as people age, which may cause improper balances of electrolytes. Older adults are also more likely to be taking medications, such as diuretics, that influence the balance of electrolytes in the body. They may also not eat or drink often enough for a number of reasons, including lack of appetite or thirst, difficulty swallowing due to disability, or irregular access to food and drink.
Other people at risk of experiencing an electrolyte imbalance or deficiency include people who work out regularly or work outdoors, particularly if they are heavy or salty sweaters.
One of the primary ways that electrolytes are lost is through sweat, so individuals who sweat a lot as a result of their daily routines need to be especially careful about maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes.
Some medical conditions also put people at an increased risk of experiencing electrolyte imbalances and deficiencies.
Conditions that increase a person’s risk of experiencing an electrolyte imbalance include:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Congestive heart failure
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia
- Thyroid disorders
- Kidney disease
- Trauma, such as severe burns or broken bones
- Adrenal gland disorders
Warning Signs (Mild)
If you are experiencing an electrolyte imbalance, you may not know it right away. Mild electrolyte imbalances often do not show any symptoms until they become more severe.
However, there are some warning signs of an electrolyte imbalance that you should watch out for, including:
- Muscle cramps
- Mental confusion
- Irregular heartbeat
When electrolyte imbalances become more severe, they can cause other symptoms as well.
Symptoms of an electrolyte disorder include:
- Fast heart rate
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Muscle cramping
- Irregular heartbeat
- Convulsions or seizures
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling
Signs to See a Doctor
Mild electrolyte imbalances may be corrected by using an electrolyte supplement and being proactive about consuming foods and beverages high in natural electrolytes, but a more severe electrolyte imbalance can be very dangerous and requires medical attention.
Make sure to see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Drop in blood pressure
- Reduced elasticity of the skin
- Quickening heart rate
- Sunken eyes
These are signs of severe dehydration, and rehydration will need to occur in a medical setting in order to properly diagnose and treat the electrolyte deficiency.
How To Keep Your Electrolytes in Check
The best way to avoid an electrolyte deficiency is to support your body’s health and hydration by taking in the necessary amount of electrolytes each day.
Each person’s electrolyte needs will vary slightly based on their activity level, age, and medical conditions that may influence electrolyte levels.
While some people may be able to take in enough electrolytes through food or drink alone, others may need to incorporate electrolyte supplements into their diet, particularly if they work out regularly or work outdoors in a warm environment. In fact, an estimated 50 percent of the population is deficient in electrolytes and 75 percent of people are chronically dehydrated. Chances are you or someone you love is one of them!
When people are looking to replenish electrolytes, their first thought often goes to brightly colored sports drinks that are packed with junk. In addition to being big, bulky, and heavy, commercial sports drinks are loaded with unnecessary additives like sugar, artificial colors, carbohydrates, and calories.
Electrolyte concentrates like DayLyte from Total Hydration offer the perfect alternative for people who know they need to replace electrolytes but would prefer to skip the extra additives. You can think of it as a multivitamin for hydration!
Electrolyte concentrates like DayLyte from Total Hydration replace the electrolytes you lose during a tough or long workout, while spending time outdoors, or from a late night out, and it’s also suitable for vegans. It has a natural full spectrum electrolyte profile that contains 0 calories, 0 sugars, and no artificial flavors or sweeteners. In short, it’s about as healthy as you can get! Just because electrolyte concentrates like DayLyte don’t contain calories doesn’t mean they skip on electrolytes, though. In fact, compared to commercial sports drinks, Daylyte contains three times the amount of electrolytes you’d find in a bottle you’d buy at the convenience store.
Electrolyte concentrates restore the proper balance of electrolytes to the body, helping you to recover more quickly.
Additionally, ensuring that your electrolytes are balanced helps to support your immune system and prepare your body to fight back viruses and other germs.
Daylyte can easily be mixed into any water bottle, which means you don’t have to worry about carrying around a bulky sports drink. Daylyte contains no calories, sugar, or carbohydrates and is precisely formulated to deliver the electrolytes you need. When water isn’t enough, DayLyte will help you feel and perform your best.
When you need to take your electrolytes on the go and make sure they are as lightweight and portable as possible, Enhanced Electrolyte Capsules from Total Hydration is your best bet. These electrolyte capsules offer a more concentrated profile of enhanced electrolytes developed by an endurance athlete who just so happens to be a leading sports nutritionist and have a PhD, so you know that it’s perfect for endurance athletes like marathon runners, cyclists, and triathletes.
Enhanced Electrolyte Capsules are specially formulated to contain the optimal amount of natural electrolytes you need in order to replace the electrolytes lost during exercise or daily activities.
The best part is that they contain no sugar, calories, artificial ingredients, or sweeteners and contain electrolytes in their most absorbable and usable forms, which means your body gets the electrolytes it needs as quickly as possible.
If you need an electrolyte supplement that is compact, portable, and can be used anytime and anywhere, Enhanced Electrolyte Capsules are the perfect fit. Whether you keep them in your pocket during long runs or on your nightstand for when you wake up after a long night out, you’ll have the key to hydration sitting right in the palm of your hand.
Electrolyte powders are another convenient, lightweight electrolyte supplement option. Electrolyte powders can be considered as a hybrid between concentrates and capsules. You’ll mix electrolyte powders directly into your water or drink, just like a concentrate, but like the capsules, the powder is measured into exactly the right amount you need in order to get the electrolytes your body is craving.
Electrolyte powders are incredibly versatile because they are either flavorless or lightly flavored, which means you can mix them into just about any beverage. Whether you prefer to add electrolyte powder to your water bottle or mix them in with your morning smoothie, you have lots of options when it comes to how to consume electrolyte powder.
The only thing to be careful of when it comes to electrolyte powders is to make sure to read the label carefully. Electrolyte powders are often grouped with other drink mixes in the grocery store that have no health or hydration benefits at all, so it’s easy to grab the wrong one by mistake. Always check the label to ensure that you’re actually buying an electrolyte-specific powder and not just some extra sugar and coloring for your water!
Food Sources High in Electrolytes
We’ve already established that people used to obtain all of the electrolytes they need directly from their diets, but that is no longer the case.
In addition to the fact that many people today do not take in enough natural foods like fruits and vegetables to receive an adequate supply of electrolytes, water today is over purified and filtered to remove the naturally occurring minerals that once helped us stay hydrated.
That means that people today have to be very intentional about what they eat and drink in order to avoid dehydration and prevent electrolyte imbalances.
Even people who do consume plenty of fruits and vegetables might be at risk of electrolyte deficiency. Due to unsustainable farming practices, the soil in which many commercially available fruits and vegetables are grown is often low in the electrolytes and minerals your body needs. Spinach, kale, and other vegetables are especially likely to have lower electrolyte levels than would otherwise be expected if they are grown on soil that is overfarmed.
As a result, using an electrolyte supplement can work as a type of insurance policy that will help you keep you hydrated no matter where your food is grown.
Nonetheless, choosing electrolyte- and nutrient-rich foods that support healthy hydration is incredibly important to keep your body functioning, feeling, and performing at its peak.
Be sure to incorporate whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, as these foods are naturally packed with the electrolytes and nutrients you need to carry out day to day activities.
When it comes to what to drink throughout the day, try to choose beverages that are naturally rich in electrolytes, such as water, milk, and limited amounts of coffee and tea.
Our bodies need electrolytes in order to function properly. Without them, our muscles cannot properly contract, our nerves can’t transmit messages throughout the body, our internal pH balance is not maintained, and we become dehydrated. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you get the electrolytes you need.
The seven electrolytes in the body include sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. Although each performs slightly different functions, all of the electrolytes are needed to help to keep the body performing at its best.
Electrolyte deficiencies are most likely to occur when people are very young or very old, but anyone can experience an electrolyte deficiency. Sweating heavily during a workout, drinking too much alcohol during a big night out, working outdoors in the heat, and experiencing a variety of health conditions put you at a higher risk of experiencing an imbalance. If you experience symptoms like muscle cramps, dizziness, mental confusion, or an irregular heartbeat, you could be suffering from an electrolyte deficiency.
In order to prevent an electrolyte imbalance and keep your body functioning properly, it’s important to eat a diet that is rich in whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources. While drinking water is helpful, it’s not enough on its own because today’s water is over-purified and is missing the minerals your body needs.
Instead, using an electrolyte supplement such as DayLyte electrolyte concentrate or Enhanced Electrolyte Capsules can help your body get the electrolytes it needs without the added sugar, calories, carbohydrates, and artificial colors commonly found in commercial sports drinks. It’s vegan friendly, too!
Don’t wait until it is too late and your performance starts to suffer. Add an electrolyte supplement to your daily routine and start feeling your best.