Electrolytes keep your body balanced

December 21, 2019 Providence Nutrition Team

Electrolytes keep your body in balance. When you lose them due to sickness or athletics, it's important to replenish your supply to: 

  • Keep your body fresh during physical activity
  • Fight dehydration
  • Help prevent heatstroke

[3 MIN READ]

It’s easy to take water for granted. For most of us, we turn on a tap and out it comes. But when you realize that people can go without food for about three weeks but can’t last much more than three or four days without water, it’s truly more precious than liquid gold.

Our brains need water to produce hormones and neurotransmitters. Water helps move oxygen through our bodies. It assists in digesting the foods we eat. Some research even suggests drinking more water might boost performance during high levels of physical activity.

And when water contains electrolytes, in most cases that’s all the better for our bodies.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals in your body that include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Fluids conduct these minerals through your body and produce electrical energy that helps:

  • Keep your body’s fluids balanced
  • Regulate and help stabilize your blood pressure
  • Help your muscles — including your heart — contract
  • Maintain the right amount of acidity in your blood (pH)

Beverages that commonly contain charged minerals include enhanced waters and sports drinks. Some bottled waters (except for distilled water) and even tap water have electrolytes, but the concentrations vary.

Causes and symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance

Without the proper amounts of electrolytes, you may experience an imbalance. There can be a number of causes for an electrolyte imbalance:

  • Having certain heart, kidney or liver disorders
  • Taking in the wrong amounts of intravenous fluids or feedings
  • Vomiting often, having frequent diarrhea or both
  • Sweating a lot on a hot day
  • Drinking too much or too little water
  • Taking certain medicines

If you have an electrolyte imbalance, the symptoms are based on the electrolyte levels that are affected. That means if blood test results show you have altered sodium, potassium, calcium or magnesium levels, your body may develop any or all of these symptoms:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness
  • Twitching
  • Convulsions

Avoid drinking too many electrolytes

With all the electrolyte drinks available on the market today, replacing electrolytes is as easy as buying bottles in the grocery store. However, it’s all about balance. If you replenish electrolytes faster than you’re losing them, that can add too many electrolytes to your system and make you sick.

With all the electrolyte drinks available on the market today, replacing electrolytes is as easy as buying bottles in the grocery store. However, it’s all about balance. 

To be sure you’re replenishing your electrolytes in the right amounts and avoiding a harmful imbalance, take a gradual, consistent approach. Focus on consuming enough electrolytes in your water or beverage to support your body’s functions — without overwhelming it. Again, it’s about balance and making sure your electrolyte drink doesn’t contain too many electrolytes, such as high levels of sodium or calcium.

3 ways electrolyte drinks help your body

1. Electrolytes help when you’re physically active

Electrolyte-enhanced waters such as sports drinks may benefit athletes by replenishing fluid, electrolytes and energy they lose during exercise.

You need to add fluids to replace water that’s lost when you’ve been sweating during physical activity. Even losing a small amount of water can decrease your speed, strength and focus. Since sweat contains electrolytes, it’s vital to replace those minerals.

Choose sports drinks over plain water to replace fluid and electrolytes if you:

  • Sweat a lot
  • Exercise longer than one hour
  • Are physically active in a hot environment

2. Electrolytes help you rehydrate when you’re sick

If you’re dealing with severe or constant vomiting and diarrhea, it can quickly lead to dehydration. Replace fluids and electrolytes as soon as possible.

Oral rehydration solutions (such as Pedialyte®) have specific amounts of easily digested water, carbs and electrolytes. While it’s not recommended that you give sports drinks to infants and young children, older children may be able to tolerate sports drinks if you dilute one part water to one part drink. Adults usually don’t have a problem with oral rehydration solutions or sports drinks.

Keep in mind that if you’re suffering from severe dehydration, electrolyte drinks may not work. Talk with your doctor if you have diarrhea or vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours.

3. Electrolytes help you avoid heatstroke

When you’re in a hot environment, you may be at risk for a heat-related illness such as a mild heat rash or, worse yet, a life-threatening heatstroke.

Your best cooling system is your body, which manages heat by naturally releasing it through your skin and also by sweating. But in hot weather, your body temperature can rise to very harmful levels. While the first line of defense is to limit time spent in the heat, you’ll also want to drink plenty of fluids and use electrolytes to help your body stay cool and well-hydrated.

A recipe for electrolyte water

Try this easy-to-make sports drink recipe. It will not only save you money, but it could spare you from an electrolyte imbalance:

Combine:

1/4 tsp of salt

1/4 cup of lemon juice

1/4 cup of lime juice

1 1/2 cups of unsweetened coconut water

2 cups of cold water

Cheers to your health!

Find a doctor

Looking for a doctor who can help you determine your nutritional needs when it comes to dietary and exercise concerns, which electrolytes can affect? You can find a Providence nutritionist using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area:

Alaska

California

Montana

Oregon

Washington

Related resources

14 hilariously embarrassing gym stories that will make you cringe

How to stay hydrated in athletics

Do you prefer sports drinks to other electrolyte drinks? Talk about it at #women and with #electrolytes readers @psjh.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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