What are electrolytes?

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

Coconut water
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.

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