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How useful are electrolyte supplements for athletes?

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  • What are electrolytes?
  • Effect: Why are electrolytes important for the body?
  • What electrolytes are there?
  • How does an electrolyte deficiency occur?
  • When do you take electrolytes?
  • Which foods contain electrolytes?
  • Where can you buy electrolytes?
  • Conclusion: Electrolytes are so important

Your body can do a lot. But only if it is properly cared for. Not just with energy in the form of carbohydrates, but also with the right micronutrients. They are needed for the smooth running of numerous bodily functions, such as muscle contraction and the transmission of stimuli in the nerve pathways.

Particularly important when exercising: the so-called “electrolytes”. We’ll tell you why electrolytes can prevent muscle cramps, provide an extra energy boost and how you can benefit from them in more than just sports.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential (=vital) minerals, such as potassium or magnesium. As soon as they are dissolved in a liquid – such as blood – they carry an electrical charge and are then referred to as ions. A distinction is made between

  • positive charged particles, the so-called cations and
  • negative charged particles, the so-called anions.

The different charges of the particles allow them to generate voltage to transmit stimuli and trigger certain reactions. Depending on what type of ion it is, other places in your organism are affected. Nevertheless, all electrolytes are interrelated, so they also influence each other.

Since the body cannot produce them itself, it is essential to get them through food. The electrolyte balance is regulated by the kidneys, which take on a filter function and either return them to the blood or ensure that any excess is released through the urine. They can also be excreted through the skin or the digestive system.

Effect: Why are electrolytes important for the body?

Electrolytes affect basically every function in your body. They are found dissolved not only in the blood, but also in your cells to create a balance between the so-called intracellular and extracellular spaces. Since water can migrate through the cell walls, electrolytes can also be exchanged to trigger and transmit electrical signals and thus keep the body functioning properly.

Electrolytes take on a variety of tasks, including:

  • the regulation of the water balance and thus hydration
  • muscle function, i.e. tension and relaxation
  • nerve regulation and the functioning of the nervous system
  • the regulation of the acid-base balance
  • the release of hormones

What electrolytes are there?

There are a handful of electrolytes that are of particular importance to your body. They all perform different tasks and are also recommended in different quantities by the German Nutrition Society. Here is an overview of the most important electrolytes:

1. Potassium

Potassium is particularly important for muscles and the transmission of stimuli between nerves and the nervous system. In addition, together with potassium, it is responsible for regulating blood pressure.

Recommended daily dose: 4000 milligrams

Included in: Lentils, potatoes, nuts, vegetables, bananas, whole grain products

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is responsible for keeping all electrolytes in balance and is essential for energy metabolism. It also controls the transmission of stimuli to the muscles and thus ensures smooth muscle tension and relaxation.

Recommended daily dose: 300 milligrams

Included in: Wheat bran, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, bananas, spinach

Magnesium is not only found in bananas, but also in numerous other foods

Sodium, together with potassium, regulates the water balance in cells and ensures an increase in blood pressure. Too much consumption and thus an unbalanced ratio between potassium and sodium can lead to high blood pressure.

Recommended daily dose: 1500 milligrams

Included in: Table salt (and anything that contains salt)

4. Chloride

Together with sodium, chloride controls the water distribution in the cells and thus also takes on a transport function.

Recommended daily dose: 2300 milligrams

Included in: Table salt (usually sodium chloride)

5. Calcium

Calcium is required for the transmission of stimuli between nerve cells, signal transmission in cells and is therefore required for normal muscle function. It also ensures a functioning energy metabolism.

Recommended daily dose: 1000 milligrams

Included in: Kale, whole grains, dairy products

How does an electrolyte deficiency occur?

Since electrolytes are bound in water, a deficiency always occurs when there is a high level of fluid loss. This is regulated primarily by the kidneys and intestines, which is why diseases or disorders of the kidneys, but also the gastrointestinal tract, can also be the cause of a deficiency.

If you lose a lot of fluid for other reasons, such as heavy sweating, this will of course also affect your electrolyte balance, which can lead to an imbalance.

Sudden headache after running? Quickly replenish your electrolyte levels

Symptoms of electrolyte deficiency:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headache
  • nausea
  • Loss of performance
  • Difficulty concentrating

By the way: Excessive amounts of electrolytes can also create an imbalance – which in turn affects the rest of the organism. For example, too much sodium intake is a common cause of high blood pressure.

When do you take electrolytes?

The general rule is: You have to consume electrolytes every day because your body cannot produce the minerals itself. This usually works without any problems through your diet – unless you flush out a large amount of electrolytes or are under extreme stress that increases the need.

If increased electrolytes are excreted, for example through sweat, urine or stool, it is worth using a preparation in these cases:

1. During sports

Because heavy sweating not only disrupts your water balance, it also means a loss of electrolytes. You lose around a liter of sweat per hour and with it all of these essential minerals. Studies show that you should consume electrolytes after just one hour of strenuous exercise in order to remain productive.

It makes sense, especially for endurance athletes, to replenish your electrolyte balance – at the latest when you notice that

  • your muscles get tired,
  • muscle cramps occur,
  • Energy and performance decreases.

Classic electrolyte powders for athletes, such as those from Basica or Hydraid, also contain simple sugars to provide quickly available energy. If you want to take a sugar-free supplement, we recommend Key Nutrients Electrolyte Powder, an Amazon bestseller with top ratings.

2. If you have diarrhea or vomiting

Here, too, you lose an above-average amount of fluid without the kidneys being able to regulate the electrolyte balance. This quickly leads to dehydration. To supply your body with nutrients and give it energy, it may make sense to take an electrolyte supplement such as Elotrans or Oralpädon.

3. To prevent a hangover

Electrolyte tablets and hangover powders like Katerfly became a real craze on social media. There are no studies that prove this. The fact is: Alcohol deprives your body of water, which also causes electrolytes to be lost. Electrolyte powders after a night of partying can balance your water and electrolyte levels, but they cannot completely eliminate the hangover symptoms.

The best cure for a hangover is and remains: drink less alcohol.

Which foods contain electrolytes?

Normally, the electrolyte requirement can be met without any problems through the right diet. Since the various minerals can be found in a variety of foods, it is sufficient to eat a balanced and varied diet.

These foods help replenish your electrolyte levels:

  • every vegetable and fruit
  • High-quality (whole grain) cereal
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • Dairy products
  • table salt

Bananas contain lots of electrolytes

Where can you buy electrolytes?

For an extra portion of electrolytes after exercise or during long-term exertion, food alone is usually not enough and it is worth not only replenishing your fluid levels, but also your mineral levels.

Electrolyte supplements are available in the form of powders or (effervescent) tablets that you dissolve in water – which also makes sense when you consider that electrolytes are also found dissolved in water in the body. You can buy such preparations in pharmacies, online and also in drugstores.

To recognize a good preparation, you should make sure that it contains sufficiently high amounts of all important electrolytes. It has been proven that sweating causes you to lose mainly sodium, potassium, magnesium and small amounts of calcium. Some electrolyte preparations also contain zinc, B vitamins or vitamin C, which can benefit regeneration after training. The large price differences are primarily due to the amounts of electrolytes they contain.

Conclusion: Electrolytes are so important

To keep your performance at the highest level, you can’t do without electrolytes. Your body needs them. And you have to make sure he gets it. Drinking water alone is not enough, especially during or after long, intensive exercise, but also in summer. Supplements definitely make sense in this case.

Instead of waiting for your muscles to get tired and you to be plagued by cramps, take clever precautions with electrolyte supplements.

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