Make sure you’re hydrated and stay on top form by keeping your electrolyte levels high.
In general, all you need to stay hydrated is a balanced diet and water, but there are certain situations when sticking to H2O alone just won’t cut it. That’s because your body also needs electrolytes to maintain the balance of water in your body. If your electrolyte levels dip too low, drinking gallons of just water is actually more likely to exacerbate your problems than provide the rehydrating fix you need.
What are electrolytes and what do they do?
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium that dissolve in fluid and carry an electric charge around the body. They’re found in bodily fluids like blood and sweat, and they are crucial to any number of bodily functions, including muscle contraction and the communication between cells through your nervous system.
When it comes to hydration, electrolytes play a vital role in balancing the water inside and outside the cells in your body by enabling osmosis – the process where water moves through the cell membrane. If you don’t have enough water inside the cell it will shrivel up owing to dehydration.
Why are electrolytes important?
The importance of electrolytes is easily demonstrated by what happens when you run short, or have an imbalance in the blood. When electrolyte levels are low, dehydration can set in and you’ll experience symptoms such as tiredness, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches, and muscle cramps.
If you’re undertaking a particularly hard bout of exercise, especially in hot conditions when you’re sweating a lot, hydrating purely by drinking water alone can dilute the sodium in your blood to the point where you experience hyponatremia. This is a potentially severe condition that can lead to nausea and seizures and requires medical treatment. It’s one that you often see crop up at major events like marathons when people try to hydrate with only water. A study undertaken at the 2002 Boston Marathon found that 13% of 766 runners tested had hyponatremia.
If you know you’re embarking on an endurance challenge in hot conditions, taking SOS Hydration with its optimal balance of electrolytes is a good way to ensure you’re replacing lost salts and lost fluids.
When do we need to take electrolytes?
In general, you can get the electrolytes your body needs through food; there are many good dietary sources of electrolytes easily available like bananas for potassium, nuts and seeds for magnesium, dairy products for calcium and pretty much anything salty for sodium and chloride.
However, there are many situations when it’s worth topping up with extra electrolytes owing to the stress your body is under. The most common include times when you’re unwell and experiencing a fever, vomiting or diarrhea in particular, and your body is losing a lot of fluid, or when you’re undertaking exercise and sweating a lot.
If you’re just exercising for a short period you can usually get by without taking extra electrolytes, but the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that once you hit the hour mark it is worth considering topping up your electrolyte levels. This is especially true if you are keen to recover quickly in order to train again.
What’s more, if you have a big sporting event coming up it’s worth taking electrolytes in the build up to it to ensure you’re well prepared for the challenge ahead. If you become dehydrated your performance will suffer – one study found that running times over 10,000m increased by 2min 37sec owing to dehydration.
Other situations where you might want to take electrolytes include after a big night out, since many of the unpleasant effects that follow arise from dehydration, owing to the fact alcohol is a diuretic. You could even use an electrolyte drink before you go to bed, if you want to reduce the unpleasant symptoms of dehydration before they start.
It’s wise to keep an eye on your hydration in general too, because even when we’re just mildly dehydrated we lose the ability to work at our full mental capacity. If you find that you’re becoming tired, woozy and even grumpy at your desk every day, dehydration could be the case, so instead of drinking coffee after coffee, make sure you stay on top of your water and electrolyte intake and you’ll feel fresher and more attentive throughout the day.
When we sleep we lose on average over 1kg of water-weight through breathing, sweating and those nighttime trips to the bathroom, so using an electrolyte drink in the morning, while not essential for your health, might well help to kick off your day on the right foot.
How much sodium do we lose in sweat?
Sodium is the main electrolyte we lose in sweat, and the average rate of that loss is 40-60 mmol per litre of sweat. Sweat rates vary from person to person and also depend on the intensity of the activity you’re undertaking, as well as the temperature, but it’s also the case that people lose different amounts of sodium in their sweat. Some are particularly salty sweaters, which means that they need to pay extra attention to replacing the electrolytes they’re losing. One study on marathoners found that 20% of people need to be particularly careful about their salt losses.
You can get a test to check your own rates of sodium loss through sweat precisely, but there are also some key hallmarks of a salty sweater to look out for. Does your sweat really sting when it gets into your eyes, and are you finding white marks on your skin or clothes after exercises? If so, then you might be losing a higher than average amount of sodium in your sweat.
How to put electrolytes back in your body
On occasions when you need more electrolytes than you can get through food alone, try the SOS Daily Electrolyte and Vitamin Drink. It provides everyday convenient hydration, vitamins and minerals to help you keep your immunity and cognitive function in check.
If you’re looking for electrolytes during intense sporting activities you can also find sports drinks and energy gels that have added electrolytes. These usually also come with a whole load of carbohydrates to provide energy for long bouts of exercises, so aren’t ideal for the office or rehydrating the body when hungover. Direct sources like SOS Hydration Electrolyte Powders are your best bet. These are carefully designed in line with World Health Organisation standards to deliver exactly what the body needs to stay hydrated and on top form, helping you keep up with an active lifestyle and improve sports performance.
Be wary of just using sports drinks alone, however, because they don’t have the high levels of sodium you get from electrolyte powders. In 2015, a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that triathletes who took salt tablets alongside sports drinks replaced 71% of the sodium they were losing compared to 20% in the triathletes who just used sports drinks, and those who used salt tablets finished 26 minutes faster in the event.