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Electrolytes: Why they Matter

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We have all seen the sports drink commercials that have engrained in our minds the importance of hydration. The athlete cooling their sweating forehead with the dripping of condensation on the cold bottle. We get the picture from this scene that if I sweat a lot, I need a sports drink. But why?

Sports drinks contain electrolytes which are chemicals in the body that help to balance fluids, maintain your blood’s proper PH, and carry electrical signals to power your nerves and muscles. There are many specific electrolytes but some common examples are sodium, potassium and chloride. 

When we sweat, we expel the water from our bodies along with these chemicals.  When we have an imbalance of electrolytes in the body, it can prevent our muscles from firing and our brain from functioning normally. If our levels get too far out of balance, serious health consequences can result. 

A condition called hyponatremia can occur when the sodium levels in the body drop below a safe level. This can happen by drinking too much water or by expelling out the sodium in the body through the skin without replenishing it.  It can cause very serious health complications, including organ failure. 

There are many sources of electrolytes to be aware of aside from the sugar loaded sports drinks. Coconut water is a great source of electrolytes and generally low in sugar. We can also find electrolytes in a variety of fruits, nuts, seeds and dairy products. Drinking smoothies or cold pressed juices is a great way to get many of these into the system in way that is convenient and more quickly absorbable. 

You can also supplement with whole foods such as bananas, peanut butter, leafy greens, and beans to name a few.  Water with added electrolytes can also be purchased or you can buy your own concentrated electrolytes to add to water as needed.  In an emergency situation, adding a pinch of salt to water will also do the trick. 

Staying on top of our water and electrolyte levels is especially important in these colder months as we cool down immediately after a workout and don’t feel as thirsty. Find your favorite electrolyte source and keep it handy.