Electrolytes and Physical Performance

Electrolytes are minerals found in your body. They are broken down into smaller particles called ions when they are dissolved in water. The main purpose of electrolytes is to regulate fluids in the human body. This helps balance blood pH. They create the electrical impulses required for all types of physical activity, including neuromuscular communication.

If you are eating a well-balanced diet, you will likely initially receive adequate amounts of electrolytes. When they are consumed, electrolytes will separate into a mixture of positive and negative ions. They then become charged either by the ions found in the water inside the bloodstream or the surrounding cells.

At this point, water serves as a conductor, which allows the ions to find their way to the cell membranes, carrying fluid, nutrients and waste. This process will then trigger nerve impulses along with muscle function. It allows the ions in the bloodstream to neutralize various waste acids found in the blood.

If hydration and electrolyte levels are balanced, normal physical functions won’t be an issue. However, exercise will affect a shift in these levels. Electrolytes become more concentrated resulting in their depletion over time. This can hinder the performance of athletes, and in extreme cases, can result in serious medical conditions.

Among the electrolytes dispersed when we sweat, sodium is the most relevant, as well as water levels. As a result of losing water more rapidly than we lose electrolytes, the need for replacing lost minerals during shorter periods of exercise is not as critical as it would be during longer endurance activities.

When participating in longer workouts or more strenuous activity, your body can become depleted in both sodium and other electrolytes. If these levels fall too low, you may begin having important loss of neuromuscular function. In these particular circumstances, it becomes vital to replace these lacking electrolytes, otherwise you could find your body beginning to shut down.

It’s important to replace fluid levels as well as electrolytes as soon as possible. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, it is still imperative to replenish what has been lost. Fortunately, it isn’t hard to achieve this balance. Drinking a healthy sports drink may be the most efficient source of replenishment.

Not only do certain sports drinks provide you with adequate amounts of the most important electrolytes, they also provide water necessary for rehydration. Sodium and chloride are the minerals you lose most through sweat. Ensuring your sports drink includes sodium chloride in addition to other electrolytes such as potassium chloride, magnesium and calcium, helps take the guesswork out of consuming the necessary amounts of electrolytes.

As a rule of thumb, typical athletes should be consuming 4-8 fluid ounces of water every 20 minutes. Factors that influence your fluid intake are body mass, your body’s tolerance, how hot it is and your sweat rate. What you want to consider is the amount of sodium in your chosen sports drink. The normal range is approximately 20-60mg per 100ml, and is vital when participating in any physical activity lasting more than one hour.

Because most available commercial sports drinks contain what we consider to be unhealthy ingredients, we suggest you make your own. Start with a high quality pure sports water (yes, there is a difference) with electrolytes, add some organic orange juice and lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt and adaptogens and you are set to go. This recipe will serve you well for physical activities longer than one hour and also as a sports recovery drink. Knowing the importance of balanced electrolytes for your body’s optimum health is critical for you to make the appropriate choices for the your body’s hydration.

John Lord is a sports enthusiast and free lance writer on many aspects of health, especially as they relate to sports and fitness. John uses a comprehensive supplementation program to effectively boost his own athletic performance. He is passionate about promoting a drug-free healthy lifestyle including organic products and natural supplements.