You probably know of electrolytes as the things that “fuel” your body during workouts. This is true, and in fact, electrolytes are responsible for this and much more. This article will give you a look at what electrolytes are, and why they are important, and how to get them.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are salts that are responsible for enabling the transmission of the many, many tiny electrical signals being emitted constantly throughout your body. As explained by Nate Morrow of builtlean.com, “Your body is a complex and carefully-balanced superhighway of cells, tissues, and fluids that, almost every second, directs an incomprehensible array of electrical impulses.” And electrolytes are the essential salts which get the job done.
Morrow explains that the seven main electrolytes needed by your body are: sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. These are all salt ions, which are atoms or molecules that carry an electrical charge because they contain one extra, or one less, electron than in their basic form. All of these salt ions need fluid to carry electrical impulses, and a large portion of their work is done within your nerves and muscle tissues.
What Do Electrolytes Do For Me?
The important concept to keep in mind in regard to electrolytes is balance. Consuming too little, or too many, electrolytes will lead to detrimental effects. Morrow explains that most electrolytes are in some part responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids between the extracellular (outside the cell) and intracellular (inside the cell) environments in your body.
Each electrolyte has its specified role. Individually, they all work a little differently. Sodium and chloride work primarily outside of your cells, but potassium is mostly inside your cells. Magnesium helps produce DNA and RNA, which are present and necessary in every cell. Calcium is necessary for nerve impulses to transmit, blood to clot, and bones to form.
As a result of all this, electrolytes help us to literally function, or rather to perform functions. This goes for purposeful functions and autonomous ones. Multiple electrolytes work to make your muscles contract and do work; When you don’t have enough of them, your muscles get fatigued. Some of them contribute to heart function, and they can cause irregular heartbeat if they’re either scarce, or in excess. Considering their importance to your nervous system function, you could not move properly without the necessary presence of electrolytes.
Where Can I Get Electrolytes?
“If you’re someone who eats a well-rounded diet and doesn't engage in a ton of physical activity, you likely meet your electrolyte needs through your diet,” says dietician Lauren Cadillac, quoted at Women’s Health Magazine. It’s easy to get enough of the primary electrolytes with the right foods. Potassium is found in bananas, sweet potatoes, and spinach; calcium in milk, almonds, and salmon. And sodium and chloride (salt) is easy to get enough of.
However, if you do exercise frequently or otherwise get a lot of physical activity, then supplementing your electrolytes can be useful if your diet does not provide enough of them. All of the seven electrolytes mentioned earlier can be found commonly in supplement form. There are also tablets, drinks, and quick ways designed for athletes to consume extra electrolytes.
Per U.S. News & World Report, supplementation is extremely important for sessions of exercise at least 90 minutes long.