As I outlined in this post, electrolytes are crucial substances for the function of skeletal muscles, the heart and the entire nervous system. An athlete that has an imbalance of electrolytes in their body may experience symptoms such as: fatigue, dizziness, weakness, difficulty concentrating, slow reaction time, and muscle cramping. To prevent these symptoms and ensure optimum athletic performance, here are 4 of the healthiest ways for athletes to maintain electrolyte balance.
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. These minerals are the two most abundant electrolytes in the body and play important roles in how the body functions.
Both of these minerals help to maintain proper blood volume and blood pressure and pH of body fluids. They also help to maintain the fluid balance between the intracellular and extracellular spaces of your body. In other words, these two electrolytes are incredibly important for keeping cells hydrated.
Large amounts of sodium and chloride are lost in sweat so athletes that sweat profusely should make sure they are consuming enough of them. The type of salt consumed is important, though. Table salt is typically heavily processed so it is stripped of other naturally-occurring minerals and usually contains anti-clumping chemicals.
The best salts are those that are unprocessed or unrefined such as sea salt and pink Himalayan salt. These options contain less sodium per serving than table salt, and also contain other trace minerals such as zinc, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Another great way to get your dose of natural salt is to consume salty foods such as seafood, seaweed, saltwater fish, olives, pickles, fermented vegetables.
While salt is a great source of sodium and chloride which are both necessary for proper muscle, heart and nervous system function, too much of it 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.
My advice is 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. Then on days that you sweat a lot, slightly increase your salt intake.
2. Eat mineral rich foods.
As long as you’re current diet consists primarily of a variety of plant and animal foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed, then you’re most likely getting a good dose of all of the essential vitamins and minerals, including those minerals that serve as electrolytes in the body. The following are foods that are rich in electrolyte minerals and would be excellent options to replenish these important substances before, during or after an intense workout:
- coconut water
- dark leafy greens
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.
This area was once dominated by sugary sports drinks, but now the sports nutrition industry has boomed with healthier options that hydrate and replenish without all the added sugar or artificial ingredients. Here are a couple of my favorite electrolyte replenishment products:
- 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 but for high-intensity or long-duration athletes, I think they are 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, stabilizes blood sugar levels, promotes strong bones and strong heart, and prevents muscle cramping. Scientists have also found that many athletes do not consume enough magnesium through their diets to support optimum performance.
This amazing mineral, especially when combines with zinc, activates the parasympathetic nervous system which means it can have a very calming and relaxing effect. Therefore, I would recommend supplementing with it before bed to help with sleep quality.
Here are my favorite magnesium supplements that address mineral deficiencies and electrolyte imbalance, but also improve the quality of my 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.