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What are Electrolyte Supplements?

(and should you use them?)

You may have heard of electrolyte supplements at some point in your exercise journey. They have become a buzzword in the health and fitness world, often touted as essential for hydration, endurance, and overall well-being. But what exactly are electrolytes, and why are they so important? Let's do a little dive into the science behind electrolyte supplements, their uses, and if you might need them.


Understanding Electrolytes

First things first, let's break down what they are. Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and help to maintain various bodily functions. The key electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. These minerals are essential for proper nerve and muscle function, hydration, pH balance, and cell signalling.


The Importance of Electrolyte Balance

When you sweat during exercise or in hot weather, you lose electrolytes, primarily sodium and potassium and to a lesser but still marked amount; magnesium and calcium. This loss can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, fatigue, and impaired performance.


The Sodium-Potassium Pump and Hydration

One of the critical processes regulated by electrolytes is the sodium-potassium pump. This pump, found in all cells in our body, actively transports sodium out of cells and potassium into cells. When electrolyte levels are imbalanced, the sodium-potassium pump may not function optimally, which is why just having something containing sodium(salt) is not enough, you need, at minimum, both minerals together. If you’re drinking tonnes of water and don’t have enough electrolytes coming in, you will just pee it straight out, rather than absorb the water into your cells.


Do you need to supplement?

If you fall into any of the following categories, or experience any of the following effects then you may need to supplement: 

1. Sweat Profusely most days of the week

If you’re an extra sweaty person you lose a lot of electrolytes in your sweat. Replenishing them can help you to stay hydrated, and all the wonderful benefits that come with that like better energy and mental clarity. 

2. Do long endurance exercise of more than 90 minutes

You’ll likely be losing electrolytes more than what you will intake in your diet so supplement during and straight after. 

3. Get muscle Cramps

Persistent muscle cramps, especially during or after physical activity, can be a sign of low electrolyte levels, particularly potassium and magnesium. 

4. Dizziness or Lightheadedness

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded during exercise, especially when standing up quickly, can be a sign of dehydration and electrolyte loss, particularly sodium. 

5. Headaches during or after exercise

Low levels of magnesium and potassium, can trigger headaches or migraines. 

Choosing the Right Electrolyte Supplement

With so many different supplement options available, these are our top tips to get a good one:

● Look for supplements that contain at least sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Just sodium is not enough and is very common in typical “sports drinks”

● Avoid ones with a high sugar content, you just don’t need all those extra sugars when you’re simply trying to rehydrate your body.

● Ensure you dilute it to the concentration written on the packet. The concentration of the electrolytes mixed with the water is very important for optimal absorption.


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