What are electrolytes?

by - Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As an (aspiring) athlete, I am frequently reminded to "replenish my electrolytes" after a long workout. So, what the heck are electrolytes and how do we replenish them?

Electrolytes are electrically charged salt ions that include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate in our bodies. These elements are necessary for our cells to regulate the electric charge between them and the flow of water across their membranes. Electrolytes affect and regulate the hydration of the body and are critical for nerve and muscle function. Without sufficient levels of key electrolytes, we may experience muscle weakness or cramping. Hormones within our bodies help to maintain electrolyte balance, however, when we exercise for more than 90 minutes or in hot weather we lose electrolytes when we sweat. It is important to replenish those lost electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, as soon as we finish our workout.

So, how do we do that? There are tons of "sports drinks" available for this purpose. I am pretty particular about what I am willing to put into my body, though, and many of those won't work for me because they contain artificial color or high fructose corn syrup (ick!). I prefer products that are more natural and have found two that are my favorites.

Clif Quench

(image from clifbar.com)

I love this product! It tastes great (not too sweet) and it doesn't contain any weird ingredients. Highly recommended!

Coconut water

(image from zico.com)

Coconut water is very simply the water from a young coconut and it is a great natural alternative to sports drinks. It isn't rich like coconut milk; it is more like juice and it contains more potassium than a banana! There are several brands available including Zico, which is my favorite. If you can't find it in your local market, Amazon carries packs of 12 for a reasonable price (in the GetNatured store here).

You May Also Like


  1. Thanks Allison! There's also quite a bit of info that says to be careful with this...b/c we need water most of all. :-) So I only drink water except for extremely heavy workouts, then I throw in something special.

  2. Yes, I agree Steph! I occasionally notice people on the stationary bikes at the gym drinking liter-sized Gatorade during a 30 minute ride. Holy sugar, right?!

    Since it gets so darn hot where I live, I do feel like I need a little more than water on long training days outside but I definitely think that water is the most important and should not be skipped, ever!

  3. I also agree that you should mostly drink water. I have been drinking Zija Smart Mix every morning or sipping on it during a ride or workout and have notice that I recover faster and am not tired or sore. I used to train for 65 and 100 mile cycling rides with Gatorade and others and it has the sugar component.


Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome. I look forward to hearing from you!