What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that are carried by body fluids and carry an electrical charge. They play an important role in producing energy for cells, transporting signals to and from the brain, muscle contractions, and more. The main electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
What is an electrolyte imbalance?
When you sweat profusely, due to heat exposure, physical activity, or a combination of the two, your body loses water and the electrolytes it carries. For athletes in the middle of a training session or competition, especially in the summer, this loss can be disastrous. A study indicates that water loss of just two percent of body weight can compromise performance and health.
But drinking water by itself is not enough to repair the damage. Not only does water contain no electrolytes, but drinking too much of it without at the same time absorbing an appropriate amount of electrolytes will lead to an imbalance – in other words, you can drink water well past the point of quenching, but it won’t charge you.
You see, when you drink plain water, you dilute the electrolytes that are left in your body. It is then even more difficult for them to serve the bodily processes in which they play such an essential role. In addition, it causes some of the same problems as those caused by a lack of water, as well as other difficulties. Research shows that an inadequate electrolyte imbalance can lead to changes in blood pressure , confusion, fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, and decreased muscle control. In other words, drinking too much water is just as bad as not drinking enough!
A study analyzed Boston Marathon runners. Thirteen percent of competitors tested were found to have inadequate electrolyte balance while running. In fact, runners who drank the most water – at least three liters of liquid during the marathon – had the worst finish times (over four hours). All that water actually made them gain weight – over a four hour run!
The amount of water and electrolytes you need is highly dependent on your size, the activity you do, the amount of time you spend training and the weather conditions, so it is impossible to give a general recommendation on the amount to consume. But experts say the smartest strategy is to drink a mixture of water and electrolytes regularly during your workout, even before the first sign of thirst.
The benefits of electrolytes for athletes?
Electrolyte supplementation has been shown to positively and significantly impact two main measures of performance. He can…
Sodium, in particular, has been shown to support sustained energy for long-lasting endurance exercise. A 2016 study found that triathletes who took a sodium supplement during a half ironman finished faster than a control group, and lost less body mass due to water depletion along the way. One study reported that cyclists taking sodium improved their finish time by 7.4% compared to a control group, which researchers attributed to better cardiovascular function.
Another study found that sodium bicarbonate helped prevent fatigue in swimmers and improve their finish time in the 200 meter freestyle, likely by contributing to the acid buffering capacity of athletes. If your sports activities are limited to your garden or garage, sodium is also effective for anaerobic exercise. A 2014 trial found that basketball players maintained sprint performance better in the final quarter of their game with baking soda than with a placebo. Meanwhile, a study showing that sodium promoted increased total work done by experienced judo and jiu-jitsu competitors, as well as anaerobic power, was published. This means they can perform more screenings and submissions in the same amount of time.
Stimulate strength gains
Magnesium has long been linked to the production of strength. A 2015 study found that it promoted maximum bench press strength by 17.7%. (Good news for the impatient: it only took a week.)
Additionally, one study concluded that minerals were directly associated with maximum core, leg and grip strength – and jumping performance – in basketball, handball and volleyball players. The researchers wrote: “The observed associations between magnesium intake and muscle strength performance may result from magnesium’s important role in energy metabolism, transmembrane transport, and muscle contraction and relaxation.” They also noted that in general, athletes’ magnesium intakes are “often below recommended levels.”
Do I really need carbs for energy?
The consensus recommends consuming no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of activity. More than that can delay the rate at which your stomach empties of food, causing discomfort in your gut that can affect your performance.
Also, solutions made with a 2:1 ratio of glucose to fructose seem to offer more benefits than carbohydrates in any form. One study reported that this glucose-fructose combination boosted performance in a range of activities, including sprinting, weightlifting, jumping, and shuttle running. Plus, one study showed it helped cyclists improve their performance in timed trials by 8%. The combination of glucose and fructose appears to help the body absorb carbohydrates faster than if either were consumed alone, making them more readily available during exercise.
Energy drinks and electrolytes: a winning duo?
You may be wondering if store-bought energy drinks are a good choice for replenishing your electrolytes during or after exercise. Although some of these drinks do contain electrolytes, they are often filled with sugars and artificial additives that are not ideal for good nutrition. In order not to find yourself in a state of “sugar crash” after consuming an energy drink, it is better to opt for more natural and healthy options.
Coconut water drinks, for example, are an excellent source of natural electrolytes. You can also make your own homemade energy drink by mixing water, fresh fruit juice, salt and a little honey. Remember, the important thing is to find a balance between carbohydrate and electrolyte intake to support your athletic performance without compromising your health.
Nutrition during pregnancy and lactation: do electrolytes have a role to play?
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be wondering if electrolytes can impact your health and that of your baby. This is because during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your body needs extra nutrients , including electrolytes, to support your baby’s growth and development.
A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy products will generally provide enough electrolytes to meet your needs and those of your baby. However, if you suffer from severe morning sickness, vomiting or diarrhea, it is important to discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking an electrolyte supplement to prevent an imbalance and support your health and that of your baby.
Electrolytes and recovery: how to recover well after exercise?
After an intense workout, your body needs to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes to promote proper recovery. Here are some tips to help you optimize your post-exercise recovery:
- Stay hydrated: Drink water regularly after exercise to restore your fluid balance. Don’t forget to add electrolytes to your water, either by using electrolyte tablets or by choosing a natural electrolyte-rich drink like coconut water.
- Diet: Consume electrolyte-rich foods after exercise to help restore electrolyte levels in your body. Bananas, spinach, sweet potatoes, almonds and yogurt are excellent sources of natural electrolytes. Do not forget the proteins by opting for supplements made in France if necessary ( ProtéAlpes for example.)
- Rest: Allow yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts to allow your body to regenerate and avoid injury.
- Listen to your body: Everyone is different, and listening to your body’s cues is key to determining what you need for optimal recovery. If you experience fatigue, muscle cramps or other signs of electrolyte imbalance, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.