Nutrition

4 healthy ways for athletes to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance

As I outlined in this post, electrolytes are crucial minerals needed for proper function of the human body.  These minerals support skeletal muscles, the heart and the entire nervous system.  An athlete that is deficient in these minerals may be unable to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in their body.  When this happens, the athlete will become dehydrated and performance will suffer. They will experience symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating, slow reaction time, and muscle cramping. 

To prevent these and ensure optimum athletic performance, adult athletes need to ensure they are meeting their hydration and micronutrient needs.  Here are some natural ways for athletes to maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration.

1. Be mindful of your salt.

Two of the main electrolytes needed for biological function are sodium and chloride, which are both found in naturally occurring salts. Both minerals help to maintain proper blood volume, blood pressure and pH of body fluids.  They also help to maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance between the intracellular and extracellular spaces of your body.   

Large amounts of sodium and chloride are lost in sweat so athletes that sweat profusely should make sure they are replenishing them.  The type of salt consumed is important, though.  Table salt is typically heavily processed so it is stripped of other naturally-occurring minerals.  Plus, they usually contain artificial anti-clumping chemicals.  

The best salts are those that are natural and unprocessed or unrefined.  Examples include sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.  These options contain less sodium per serving than table salt.  They also contain other trace minerals such as zinc, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium.  Another great way to consume natural salt is to consume salty foods such as seafood, seaweed, saltwater fish, olives, pickles, fermented vegetables. 

Salt is a great source of sodium and chloride which are both necessary for proper muscle, heart and nervous system function.  But too much of these minerals can have negative effects.  High sodium levels can lead to hypertension and heart problems.  High chloride levels can lead to drying of mucous membranes excessive thirst and muscle weakness. 

Too much salt consumption over a long period of time can increase risks of stroke or kidney disease and cause calcium to leach out of the body.  To avoid foods that contain processed table salt, and make sure you’re consuming a little bit of salt in its natural state (i.e. unprocessed) every day.  On days that you sweat a lot, slightly increase your salt intake.  

2. Eat mineral rich foods.

A diet consisting of a variety of plant and animal foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed, means that you’re most likely getting a good dose of all of the essential vitamins and minerals.  This includes those minerals that serve as electrolytes in the body.  The following are foods that are rich in electrolyte minerals.  These would also be excellent options to replenish these important substances before, during or after an intense workout: 

  • bananas
  • coconut water
  • squash
  • dark leafy greens  
  • celery
  • watermelon
  • almonds
  • salmon
  • yogurt
3. Keep a high-quality electrolyte supplement nearby at all times.

Once fatigue and weakness start to kick in you’ll want to replenish your body with a healthy dose of electrolytes.  Similarly, if you know you’re going to be putting in some work, prepare your body for battle with some additional electrolytes.

With regards to electrolytes, the supplement industry was once dominated by sugary sports drinks.  But, thankfully, times have changed.  Now the sports nutrition industry is flooded with healthier options that naturally hydrate and replenish without all the added sugar or artificial ingredients.   Many of them come in flavored powders that make it very convenient to replenish after a hard workout and maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.  Here my favorites:  

  • Ultima Replenisher – this one is great for ketogenic athletes and around $0.47/serving on Amazon or $0.32/serving on Thrive Market with autoship. My favorite flavors are the Cherry Pomegranate and the Pink Lemonade. 
  • Key Nutrients Electrolyte Replenishment Drink – Another great option for keto athletes since it’s sweetened with stevia and only costs around $0.33 per serving on Amazon. The peach mango flavor is delish! 
  • Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier – There’s something about this concoction that just makes me feel like a superhuman.  It does contain 11 grams of carbohydrates per serving from the added cane sugar and dextrose but those carbs are important for recovery and performance of carb-adapted athletes.   At just over $1/serving, these stick packs can get pricey. For high-intensity or long-duration athletes, however, I think they are very much worth it. 
4. Add magnesium to your bedtime routine.

Magnesium is a mineral that acts as an electrolyte, but also is needed for more than 300 biological reactions.  It maintains nerve and muscle function and  stabilizes blood sugar levels.  It also promotes strong bones and strong heart, and prevents muscle cramping.   Scientists have found that most athletes are magnesium deficient.  This deficiency results when magnesium-rich foods are not consumed regularly. 

This amazing mineral, especially when combines with zinc, activates the parasympathetic nervous system.  This means it can have a very calming and relaxing effect.  Therefore, I would recommend supplementing with it before bed to help with sleep quality in addition to helping maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.  

Here are my favorite magnesium supplements that address mineral deficiencies, prevent dehydration and improve the quality of sleep: 

  • True Athlete ZMA with Theanine – This supplement contains high-quality ingredients that ease me into sleep and don’t make me groggy the next day. Definitely worth the $0.45/serving. 
  • Ancient Minerals Magnesium Lotion or Spray – In my opinion, this is hands-down the best magnesium supplement available on the market right now.   It’s a topical application so you apply it right before bed.  You can apply it anywhere, but I like to spray the bottoms of my feet when I get into bed.  I should warn you that it may stain/lighten dark colored sheets.  My set of dark gray cotton sheets have some slight faded spots where my feet would be that don’t come out when I wash them.  
  • New Chapter Magnesium + Ashwagandha – This has been my favorite supplement so far because it combines the power of magnesium with the adaptogenic power of ashwagandha.   This herb helps the body respond to stress and has grounding benefits – both are excellent things for getting good quality sleep.  To learn more about ashwagandha and other grounding foods, read this post.
 

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