We are constantly hearing about electrolytes. Whether it’s about new, ready-to-drink water products, Gatorade, Liquid I.V., Pedialyte or others, there are plenty of different brands out there that promise to replenish consumers' electrolytes. These promises usually come in the context of sports and athletics or health, and we are constantly being marketed the concept of “electrolytes” and their importance. In fact, if you go to any kid’s sporting event or adult athletics competition, you will undoubtedly come across one or several brands offering “electrolytes”.
But what are electrolytes? How do they work? How do you replenish them? These are all common questions that most people do not know the answers to despite frequently consuming drinks that promise to replenish electrolytes. In this post, we will go over what exactly electrolytes are, how they work, and how you can replenish them!
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are the minerals, or salts, within your body that carry an electrical charge. These minerals, such as potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium consist of both positively and negatively charged ions. These minerals can be found all throughout your blood, tissues, and other parts of your body. Their role is to transmit nerve signals throughout your body, which is crucial for muscle movement.
Why are Electrolytes so Important for Sports?
If there is one activity around which we always hear the word “electrolytes”, it's sports. This is because electrolytes play a key role in keeping your body hydrated. In order for water levels to balance there needs to be another substance in the water that allows osmosis to occur. Osmosis is essentially the movement of water from diluted areas (lots of water and less of a subtance), to more concentrated areas (less water, more of the same substance). Electrolyte serves as this substance.
In addition, electrolytes allow for the brain to communicate properly with your muscles. Without getting too much into the science, when your brain sends a signal, it does this by starting a chain reaction of chemical releases in your nerves. The chemicals being released that carry these signals are electrolytes. So without the correct levels of electrolytes, your brain will either send signals much slower or not at all. This can lead to cramps or other issues that inhibit athletic performance.
Finally, the electrolyte bicarbonate acts as a neutralizer for lactic acid, one of the main byproducts of working out. Lactic acid leads to sore and tight muscles and inhibits recovery.
How Do We Lose Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are lost in a number of different ways. The most common way, and one of particular concern for athletes, is through sweat. When we sweat, we lose sodium and chloride, which are electrolytes within our bodies. If we are engaging in intense physical activity, our bodies are unable to keep up with the electrolyte loss and cannot naturally replenish them.
Another way we can lose a lot of electrolytes is just through pee. When you work out you naturally drink a lot of water. When you pee out the excess water, you lose electrolytes along with it. This, along with sweating, results in a net loss of electrolytes unless you consciously replenish your electrolytes through other methods.
Even for those not engaged in strenuous exercise, there are many ways to lose a lot of electrolytes. For example, drinking alcohol and sickness often cause vomiting and/or diarrhea--two of the biggest ways to lose electrolytes. Without a constant supply of electrolytes, it’s likely that you can even become more hungover or sick since your body will be unable to properly balance hydration levels.
Who Needs to Replenish Electrolytes?
Even for those that lead a regular lifestyle, eat a healthy and balanced diet, and do not engage in overly strenuous physical activities or sports, replenishing electrolytes is important. According to Healthline, Calcium and Magnesium are two of the most common mineral deficiencies in the US. So for many people, regardless of physical activity, constantly replenishing electrolytes is key to proper health.
Even if you don’t have a mineral deficiency or work out a lot, basic day to day life requires a healthy balance of electrolytes. Although many foods do carry electrolytes, unless you are making a conscious effort to implement these into your diet, you will need some form of electrolyte supplement.
This means that athletes must deal with the electrolytes lost in regular life AND those lost through working out. So in order to maximize athletic performance, they will need to supplement a lot of electrolytes into their diet or workout routine.
How Can You Replenish Electrolytes?
Replenishing electrolytes is not a particularly difficult task, and there are a number of ways to ensure that you are providing your body with the necessary electrolytes to engage in strenuous, physical activities--or just day to day life.
Balanced, Varied Diet
While having a balanced and varied diet is not enough to keep a high-activity, performance athlete’s electrolytes fully stocked, it can certainly go a long way in helping.
There are a number of foods that naturally help your body replenish and retain electrolytes. These foods include dairy products like yogurt, which are rich in calcium; fruits like bananas, which are high in potassium; and drinks like coconut water, which contains both sodium and potassium. Another fruit that is a great source of electrolytes is watermelon. And let’s not forget about avocados, one of the favorite foods of Americans, which contain about twice as much potassium as bananas!
When it comes to replenishing electrolytes, sports drinks are probably the most well-known and recognized way of doing so. These drinks help athletes stay hydrated, keep their bodies cool, and replenish their electrolytes all at the same time, making them great for strenuous activities and high-endurance sport competitions. They also help keep athletes from cramping, which is a nightmare scenario for any competitor.
The problem with sports drinks is that many of them are just sweet, sugary drinks disguised as nutritional drinks. Gatorade, for example, does replenish some electrolytes, but it is loaded with sugar and sweeteners. It also only contains sodium and potassium, not magnesium or calcium. Why do you think you see so many young kids walking around with their favorite flavored Gatorade drink on a hot and sunny day?
Remember, sports drinks are supposed to serve a purpose. While you probably don’t want them to taste gross, you just need them to replenish your electrolytes and rehydrate your body so that you can perform.
A high-quality sports drink will seek to maximize its ability to replenish an athlete’s electrolytes to their proper levels while at the same time minimizing the overall sugar intake of the athlete.
Another great way to replenish electrolytes is to use a powder mix. Powder mixes, which you can mix into any drink, tend to be far healthier and far more effective than pre-made sports drinks. Powder mixes are typically marketing themselves only to athletes, whereas most sports drinks are typically marketing themselves to everyone (hence flavors like “Fruit Punch”). As such, powder mixes typically offer a greater variety of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, while minimizing the amount of sugar. Powder mixes are often the preferred method for replenishing electrolytes for many athletes.
However, they can also be a great option for anyone. Even if you aren’t engaging in strenuous physical activity, having an electrolyte powder sleeve on you can make sure you are always hydrated.
Why Are Sugary Drinks Bad for Athletes?
It is never a good idea for athletes to introduce loads of sugar into their bodies, particularly during a competition. Drinks with a high-sugar content will cause your blood sugar to spike. While this will provide a quick burst of energy, the energy will be short-lived and will burn off quickly. This can leave athletes more tired than they were before they had the drink. You definitely don’t want this to happen during a competition!
Interestingly enough, even though you see Gatorade bottles and signs all over NFL football fields, NHL hockey rinks, and NBA courts, most of the top athletes actually avoid drinking Gatorade altogether. Instead, they typically opt for products that are healthier and do not have the excess sugar that the large brand-name sports drinks have.
How Can ATAQ Products Help Replenish Your Electrolyte?
At ATAQ, our products are designed for the performance athlete to deliver superior results. Our electrolyte hydration powder mix, which utilizes our proprietary formula, has less than ⅓ of the sugar than other sports drinks, including Gatorade and Powerade. In addition, while Gatorade and Powerade have only sodium and potassium, our hydration powder mix includes sodium, 2x as much potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which deliver unparalleled hydration.
We don’t use any artificial sweeteners found in many sports drinks and powders, instead opting for natural cane sugar, and our formula utilizes the ingredient betaine, which helps to actively metabolize carbs and proteins within your body.