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  • Sean Jacobs MS, CSCS

Electrolytes: Rehydration and Performance Benefits.

Just the facts!


1. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals and compounds that help our bodies facilitate many basic processes, e.g. energy production, fluid level regulation, and muscle contraction.


2. Electrolyte supplementation is not needed unless you are exercising for longer than 1-2 hours (depending on the individual’s sweat rate). Sorry, Glacier Freeze lovers, your sweaty forearms during your Call of Duty campaign don’t call for a Gato. This is with the assumption, however, that the person started the session in a balanced, hydrated state.


3. The RDA for sodium ranges from 1200-1500mg per day.


4. Most athletes lose around 1000mg of sodium per hour, depending on their sweat rate.

5. One teaspoon of table salt contains 2400mg of sodium.


6. Fun fact: Want to enjoy a night out with friends without the gigantic head-rattling hangover the next morning? Drinking alcohol dehydrates us, yes, but what many of us fail to realize is that if we add electrolytes to the water we chug the night of or the morning after, we could actually speed up the recovery process, or in some cases avoid it all together. Hence why your Bloody Mary at brunch always helps the next day: tomato juice is chock-FULL of vitamins and minerals (electrolytes). Now if only we could skip the hair of the dog in it, we’d zap the hangover even faster! :)



If you read our article on dehydration, we now know that we need to be mindful of heading into a training session well-hydrated, so does that mean we should supplement with electrolytes?


Minerals are involved in muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm, nerve impulse conduction, oxygen transport, oxidative phosphorylation, enzyme activation, immune functions, antioxidant activity, bone health, and acid-base balance of the blood.4️⃣ Because many of these processes are accelerated during exercise, an adequate amount of minerals is necessary for optimal functioning.5️⃣ As we discussed in the previous article, when raising the intensity of exercise, sodium and chloride losses increase by ~150%.3️⃣



Adequate amounts of all minerals should be obtained in the diet, as a mineral deficiency may impair optimal health, and health impairment may adversely affect sport performance.5️⃣ The notable phrase here is “in the diet.” We should all be eating well-balanced diets that provide us with plenty of micronutrients to accomplish all associated physiological functions effectively, but the hard truth is that a good number of us do not. In any situation where a deficiency may be present, think whole foods, first. If you are looking to replace your electrolytes lost during exercise faster, through additional supplementation, see Table 1 above for recommended dosages. Table 2 below is a list of foods that provide some of these essential micronutrients.



Many factors can contribute to determining your specific needs when it comes to staying hydrated, replacing lost fluids post-training, and possibly supplementing with electrolytes. It is necessary to find a balance (don’t simply add sodium and ignore your potassium levels), stay away from the extremes (too little or too much), and hone in on consistently sufficient intake of ample fluids and micronutrients. Be mindful of how your environment and your daily habits can contribute to possible dehydration. What climate do you live in? Hot, humid climates contribute to more water loss and a slower evaporation rate, meaning the cooling effect of sweating is diminished. Colder, drier climates have less moisture in the air and therefore require increased fluid intake to account for fluid loss. Do you work outside? Do you sit at a desk all day or are you moving for the bulk of your day? How often do you train? All of these things come in to play when determining what is best for you.


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Pro Tip: The longest period of time you spend without drinking water is most likely (should be) while you sleep, so when you wake and before you have your first meal and/or coffee, knock back 8-16oz of room temperature water to cap off your hydration levels. Squeeze half of a lemon for pH benefits and add a few pinches of salt to help the rehydration process, keep thirst levels churning, and prime your digestive tract for your first meal.

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Having a little salt or an electrolyte supplement before you train could also help ensure that your hydration level is where it needs to be to avoid any adverse effects on your training session, because data suggests that a dehydrated state enhances the stress of a resistance exercise session and may interfere with training adaptations.2️⃣ And with that being said, adding a modest amount of salt (0.3-0.7g/L) to all hydration beverages throughout the day would be acceptable to stimulate thirst, increase voluntary fluid intake, decrease the risk of creating a fluid/sodium imbalance (i.e. too much water, not enough electrolytes) and should cause no harm.1️⃣


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Pro Tip: Himalayan sea salt is packed full of trace minerals (84, actually) that normal table salt is deficient in, including calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Add a pinch or two to food and water throughout the day to contribute to more desirable electrolyte ratios and better overall hydration.

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Magnesium regulates many physiological processes, including energy metabolism, and loss of magnesium from the body increases after heavy exercise, specifically intense anaerobic exercises, i.e. weight training.2️⃣


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Pro Tip: Magnesium supplementation after a hard training session (200-400mg) can help you recover better, sleep more soundly, and help your performance in the following training session.

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Ratios of electrolytes may have a greater impact than individual deficiencies alone. When thinking about your sodium intake, don’t forget about potassium as well. Eating 4-5 servings of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables daily can help balance the sodium/potassium scales.


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Pro Tip: Nuun Sport Tablets are a great electrolyte supplement to add into your daily regimen, in the morning, pre-exercises, and/or post exercise. Each tablet has 300mg sodium, 150mg potassium, 25mg of magnesium, and 13mg of calcium.

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The main idea here is that vitamins and minerals cannot be produced by the body and thus must be consumed in foods and beverages. Get as much as you can from whole food sources in your diet, drink plenty of fluids, and if needed, supplement with additional electrolytes to get the most out of your training sessions as well as ensure recovery from them.


References:


1. Casa, D.J., Armstrong, L.E., Hillman, S.K., Montain, S.J., Reiff, R.V., Rich, B.S.E., Roberts, W.O. & Stone, J.A. (2000b). National Athletic Trainers’ association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 35, 212-224.


2. National Strength & Conditioning Association (U.S.)., Campbell, B. I., & Spano, M. A. (2011). NSCA's guide to sport and exercise nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


3. Baker LB, De Chavez PJD, Ungaro CT, et al. Exercise intensity effects on total sweat electrolyte losses and regional vs. whole-body sweat [Na+], [Cl-], and [K+]. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019;119(2):361–375. doi:10.1007/s00421-018-4048-z.


4. Speich, M. Minerals, trace elements and related biological variables in athletes and during physical activity. Clinical Chimica Acta. 2001, 312: 1–11. 10.1016/S0009-8981(01)00598-8.


5. Williams, M.H. Dietary supplements and sports performance: Minerals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2005; 43(2), 43–49. PubMed doi:10.1186/1550


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