Why do I need electrolytes?

Canadian Running magazine just released an article titled, “What are electrolytes?” It made me think about how so many people throw around the word without actually knowing what “electrolytes” are for, or when we really need to think about consuming them as athletes. I think it’s really important that runners know what electrolytes are and why people will constantly feel the need to make sure they are getting their electrolytes. 

Electrolytes are ions, also called salts. They have a chemical charge and are very important as components of bodily fluids and cells in maintaining a certain chemical charge gradient. Having the right balance of electrolytes in your body means electrical impulses can be conducted efficiently and muscles can contract effectively. Your heart is one big muscle… so these ions are pretty important for athletes. 

Blood has a certain level of salt it requires to transport oxygen to your muscle cells. This salt is literally table salt… NaCl (sodium and chloride ions). When we sweat, we not only lose water, but ions as well, which is why after a hard workout, your sweat dries and leaves you skin feeling grainy… it’s actually salt! The main ions released in salt are sodium (Na) and potassium (K).


Sports drinks like Powerade and Gatorade have not only sugar to help restore your glycogen levels and water to rehydrate you, but ions, including sodium and potassium to rebalance your cellular electrolytes. Electrolytes are obviously super important, but many people down sports drinks like water when they really don’t need to be! Rehydrating with water AND electrolytes is actually only necessary for runs that are 90 minutes or longer! Source After 90 minutes, for optimal performance, it is best to add electrolytes, and most likely a source of carbohydrates, to your water when rehydrating. The amount of ions you need depends on your fitness level!

ElectrolyteUse


Another major factor is the amount you sweat. I mostly likely need 5 litres of electrolytes per hour if we go by the rate I sweat. Gross. A few of the signs while running that inform you that you need electrolytes in addition to water are; muscle cramping, side stitches, and stomach cramping. If your electrolytes are severely out of balance you could experience muscle cramping, muscle weakness, nausea, dry skin, or extreme fatigue. Source

When it comes to actually consuming these electrolytes, marketing has done its job and we often think Powerade or Gatorade. These are great for super duper long runs where we need the MASS amounts of sugar they contain, but other sources of electrolytes that have no sugar include Hammer Endurolytes, Ultima ReplenisherVega electrolyte hydrator, or Nuun tablets


Another great one I have found is MioSport. It helps that most of those brands have super awesome flavours and make your water taste unreal. Personally, I only ever make a point of replenishing my electrolytes on long runs (generally ten miles or more) when I can actually feel the salt on my body, but everyone is different so experiment when your electrolyte refuelling (preferably not experimenting on a race day ;).

Today I did 30 minutes of spin, testing out some new songs. They were all pretty great so I will have an awesome playlist to share soon! After spin I did 5 minutes of abs, then ran a mile on the track (I never run on the indoor track so this was a momentous occasion), did 5 minutes of abs, ran another mile, 5 minutes of abs, then 25 minutes of random strength exercises in the weight room. I tried to run my second mile faster than my first. Ha. I did it. 

 I was starving when I got home so a big veggie stir-fry was in order. 9 servings of veggies in one meal? Check! (I literally just counted so for once I am not exaggerating 😉


I usually get random calf cramps when I have a bit of an electrolyte imbalance after a long run. We all know water is important, but on runs longer than 90 minutes, so is salt! Happy hydrating!

Electrolytes – how do you get yours? Have you ever experienced an imbalance after working out?

4 Comments

  1. Great post! I’ve been wondering what to do about the salty feeling on my skin after my long runs. I recently bought Nuun but haven’t tried it yet, so it looks like I’ll be giving it a try after today’s long run! Thanks for the tips!

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