- Sports drinks are often filled with excess sugar, sodium, calories, and artificial colorings.
- For most people, drinking water and eating a well-rounded diet are all that is needed for sports recovery.
If health-related New Year’s resolutions have prompted you to spend additional time at the gym this month, you might find yourself sweating more than usual — leading to the loss of valuable electrolytes. While replenishing lost electrolytes tends to be more on our minds during hot, summer months, you might want to give some thought to this during winter months, too. After all, your body needs a proper electrolyte balance year-round to function properly.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are nutrients that we take into our bodies, through food and drink, that dissolve into positive and negative charges. The three principal electrolytes are sodium, chloride, and potassium.
For optimal health, it is important to maintain a proper electrolyte balance. Electrolytes control the flow of water in our cells and enable the nerve impulses in our body to keep the heart beating, lungs functioning, and brains learning. They can also help optimize athletic performance.
We lose electrolytes through sweat, and also when using the bathroom. So, at times when either of these factors is increased — such as during heavy sweating while exercising, or during periods of illness that involve diarrhea or vomiting — you might be at risk for electrolyte imbalance.
Should I use sports drinks?
To replenish electrolytes, many people turn to sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade. While these can do the trick, these beverages are also often filled with excess sodium, sugar, calories, and artificial flavors and colorings.
Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, may benefit from sports drinks, but for the vast majority of us, drinking water, along with eating a healthy, well-rounded diet, is sufficient for sports recovery.
However, if you can’t just get yourself to drink adequate amounts of water, sports drinks might be helpful for hydration. You can also try coconut water (which research suggests can rehydrate you in a manner similar to sports drinks), opt for products made from naturally derived ingredients, or even make your own recovery beverages.
How can I maintain a healthy electrolyte balance with food?
Eat real food. A well-rounded diet consisting primarily of whole, unprocessed foods will help. Do you need some personalized advice to plan a nutrient-rich diet? Ask your doctor about referral to Swedish nutrition care services.
Be wary of sodium and chloride. These nutrients are typically present together, often in the form of table salt, and most individuals have no trouble getting enough (or too much!) in their daily diets. Processed foods are also a common source. The American Heart Association recommends ideally limiting your sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, especially if you have high blood pressure. The average American consumes around 3,400mg of sodium per day.
After heavy exercise or acute illness, it might make sense to eat something salty, or sprinkle a little salt on your post-workout meal — but when we say a little, we do mean a little. A single teaspoon of salt contains 2,300mg of sodium. Consult your doctor before changing your sodium intake.
Seek out potassium. The richest dietary sources of potassium are found in unprocessed foods – particularly fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats. Many people in the US do not get the recommended 4,700mg per day. Unlike sodium, it’s very rare that we need to worry about getting too much potassium from our daily diet. The National Institutes of Health states that “potassium from food has not been shown to cause any harm in healthy people who have normal kidney function.”
The following foods are good sources of potassium:
- Fruits, such as dried apricots, prunes, raisins, orange juice, and bananas
- Vegetables, such as acorn squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli
- Lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, and nuts
- Milk and yogurt
- Meats, poultry, and fish
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.