If you've watched any kind of sports on television, you've no doubt seen commercials for sports drinks full of electrolytes, which your body needs to work at optimum physical levels.
What are Electrolytes?
So what, exactly, are electrolytes? They are minerals in your blood, including calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium, that carry an electrical charge – if you remember your high school chemistry, they occur naturally as ions, and carry a positive or a negative charge. Electrolytes are critical for muscle function, especially potassium, sodium, and calcium; without sufficient amounts in the body, muscle weakness and severe muscle contractions (cramps) may occur. Electrolytes are also critical for maintaining your blood pH, maintaining cell wall integrity, and the amount of water in your body.
Electrolytes and Exercise
The body loses electrolytes when we exercise. As we lose sweat and become dehydrated, the body starts to get low on electrolytes and that's what triggers the thirst mechanism.
A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the best way to maintain electrolyte balance, however, physically active individuals, the elderly, and those with dietary restrictions may require electrolyte supplementation.
Ideal Electroylte Replacement
A lot of popular sports drinks say they replenish electrolytes, and that's true. Most of them are also chock full of unhealthy sugars, preservatives, and food dyes (ask yourself, if you've ever been at a mini-mart looking for something that ends in “-ade,” do you look for flavors, or colors? Your honor, the defense rests.)
If you want to be sure you're getting the electrolytes your body needs, there's two far better options than loading up on what my wife calls “the red stuff.”
First, you can buy a much healthier version of an electrolyte supplement. Many companies make their own brand of concentrates that, over the long run, are much cheaper than buying what you find in 64-ounce drums at the megamarts and provide a much better blend of electrolytes, without the unhealthy additives, preservatives, or calories.
Homemade Electroylte Drink
It's really simple to make your own electrolyte solution, too.
All you need is citrus (lemons, limes, oranges),
a liquid medium (coconut water is an excellent choice, but, hey, plain ol' water works too),
a pinch of salt (mineralized or sea salt, please, not just the table variety),
and maybe a little something to sweeten it up, like honey or one teaspoon of orange juice concentrate.
The beauty of doing it yourself is that you can customize it to your own wants and desires.
So if you want electrolytes, you don't need to wander towards the sports drink aisle. Do your research, and consider a better, healthier version. You, and your body, will be happier for it.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, "Electrolytes" found here.
MedicalNewsToday.com, "What Are Electrolytes?" found here.
eMedicineHealth.com, "Electrolytes: Facts About Imbalance Symptoms and Treatment" found here.