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Beginners Guide to Electrolytes and Hydration

True Protein Blogger 1 by Ruby Blackhall | @rubyblackhall reviewed by our Nutrition Team 20 November 2021

Read this beginner's guide to learn about all things hydration and electrolytes

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Beginners Guide to Electrolytes and Hydration

Hydration 

Hydration is the process of replenishing a lack of water in the body. Water contributes to approximately 70% of adult body mass and sufficient hydration is essential for homeostasis. We need water for digestion, to absorb nutrients, to help us move, get rid of waste products and to regulate our body temperature. Staying hydrated is crucial for our general wellbeing and even more so if you live an active lifestyle. This is because during exercise, water is exits the body via sweat. (4)  

  

Usually, a tell-tale sign of dehydration is thirst, however, another simple way to find out your hydration status is by observing urine colour and frequency of urination. Generally, urine should be a light yellow colour and should be passing 5-8 times per day. If this is not what you experience, it may be a sign that you are dehydrated or are not drinking enough water. (2) 

  

SA Health recommends that an adult woman should drink around 2L and men should drink around 2.5L of water per day to ensure adequate hydration. However, this is just an estimate and you may need to amend this depending on your exercise regime and temperature. If you are after a more specific number, an Accredited Practising Dietitian can assist you. (5)  

   

What are electrolytes? 

Electrolytes are essential minerals responsible for directing water to the areas of your body that need it the most, as well as maintaining optimal fluid balance within cells themselves. They are therefore crucial for hydration and basic life functioning. (6) 

Electrolytes have an electric charge and are found in your blood, urine, tissues and other bodily fluids. Sodium is the primary electrolyte needed in consideration to exercise, heat stress and hydration. Some other examples of electrolytes found in your body include potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium (1) . They enter the body through food or drink, and are essential in ensuring certain bodily processes function correctly. It is vital that we ensure our diet contains an adequate amount of electrolytes.  

  

What do electrolytes do?   

As stated above, electrolytes have a variety of purposes, all of which are essential for regular bodily function. These are some of the main functions of electrolytes in our bodies: 

  • Nervous System Function – electrolytes are moved across the nerve cell membrane in order to generate nervous impulses. These impulses are how our brain sends signals to other cells around our body. (8) 

  • Muscle function - Calcium and magnesium are important electrolytes for muscle function. Calcium plays a role in muscle contraction whereas magnesium plays a role in muscle relaxation. (1) 

  • Hydration - Electrolytes are important for hydration as they help direct water to areas of the body that need it most and help control the water balance both inside and outside of cells. This is essential as it prevents cells from being too full or dehydrated.  (8) 

  • Regulating pH levels - pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is. Our bodies must regulate in order to maintain a pH of around 7.4 to ensure it functions normally. Having the correct balance of electrolytes will help maintain an acceptable pH and prevent you from becoming unwell. (7) 

There are a number of electrolytes critical for body functioning, and each of them play a different role in our bodies. They work together to ensure all bodily processes are conducted at an optimal level. Here are 4 of the most important electrolytes for our bodies: 

Sodium 

Sodium is responsible for regulating water retention, muscle excitability and the permeability of cells within your body. In regards to exercise, sodium allows the body to retain and hold onto water therefore enabling hydration. It also makes us feel thirsty, so we are able to replenish the electrolytes lost via sweat. Sodium is found in a large amount of foods meaning it is rare for a deficiency to occur unless you are experiencing a bout of extreme vomiting or diarrhoea. Symptoms of a sodium deficiency include headaches, confusion, nausea and delirium, whereas symptoms of excessive levels of sodium include sleeping difficulty and restlessness. (1) 

  

Potassium 

Potassium enters the cells when sodium leaves the cells to create a pump that allows for essential packages to be transported in and out of the cell. In regards to exercise, potassium assists muscle contraction and ensures an accurate electrolyte balance. If you do not consume  enough potassium you may experience symptoms like weakness, fatigue and muscle twitching. On the other hand, if you consume too much potassium muscle cramps, weakness and an irregular heartbeat may occur. (1) 

  

Magnesium 

Magnesium plays an important role in energy metabolism, protein synthesis and muscle relaxation among other things. There has also been controversy as to whether magnesium helps prevent muscle cramping, however there is no evidence that suggests the two are linked. (1) 

  

Calcium 

Calcium is another important electrolyte. As we all know it is essential for bone strength, however it also aids muscle contraction, blood clotting and transmission of nervous impulses. (1) 

  

How do you get electrolytes? 

The best way to get electrolytes is through a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods. For example, whole foods that contain electrolytes include but are not limited to:  

  • Spinach 

  • Potatoes 

  • Watermelon 

  • Bananas 

  • Chicken 

  • Strawberries 

  • Banana  

  • Tofu 

Most people get enough electrolytes through their diet alone however, if you do strenuous activity, exercise in the heat or humid weather or, you’re a particularly ‘salty sweater’ you may need to quickly replace what is lost. Electrolytes leave the body via sweat and urine, therefore, if exercising, especially on a hot day when you may sweat more than usual, you may need to increase your consumption. Sodium and chloride in particular are lost through sweating, as well as a small amount of potassium. (2). If we do not get enough electrolytes, the essential processes mentioned earlier will not be conducted effectively. 

 

How to replenish your electrolytes? 

As well as exercise, diarrhoea and vomiting also lead to large losses of electrolytes (and fluids) meaning you may need to replace what has been lost. A convenient way to replenish electrolytes is via electrolyte beverages such as a sports drink or True’s Electrolyte powder.  

The sodium content in sports drinks encourages hydration as it increases thirst and increases absorption and fluid retention. However, typical sports drinks contain a substantial amount of sugar which is often not essential if your exercise is lower in intensity or less than 60 minutes in duration. Consuming sports drinks in excess or inappropriately can lead to excessive energy (kilojoule) intake which, is associated with weight gain and obesity (3).  

The amount of electrolytes you need to consume will depend on how much is lost. You should always read the instructions on electrolyte supplements as consuming too much could be damaging, causing abnormal levels which can lead to illness.  

True Electrolyte  

True Electrolyte powder is a quick and easy electrolyte supplement to ensure adequate electrolyte consumption. When made to directions, it is suitable for consuming before, during and after exercise to ensure your body is hydrated and able to perform at its peak.   

True Electrolyte has been formulated with the assistance of leading researchers in hydration. The ratio and amount of electrolytes in the electrolyte supplement has been scientifically designed to provide effective hydration, perfect for times when you need help getting your fluids up.  

It is also a hypotonic solution, meaning it has a lower concentration of dissolved particles than the body, therefore can be efficiently absorbed through the gut walls via osmosis. This allows for faster hydration than isotonic or hypertonic solutions on the market. 

 

  

Key Takeaways 

  • Hydration is necessary for all bodily functions, particularly during warmer weather of if living an active lifestyle 

  • Electrolytes are essential minerals vital for your body to function normally and play an important role in hydration 

  • You usually consume enough electrolytes in your diet but in some circumstances, a quick fix is needed to replenish what is lost  

  • You can find electrolytes in a wide variety of whole foods like spinach, potatoes, banana and chicken, however True ELECTROLYTE powder is an convenient and delicious option 

  • Consuming too little or too many electrolytes can be damaging and cause an imbalance, having a knock-on effect on bodily processes 

       

        References

      1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/#_NBK541123_pubdet_  

      2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213308/  

      3. https://www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au/facts 

      4. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/68/8/439/1841926?login=true 

      5. https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/fulltext/2010/11001/healthy_hydration_for_physical_activity.11.aspx 

      6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256 

      7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169131704000286 

      8. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/557049 

       

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      IMPORTANT INFORMATION: all content provided here is of a general nature only and is not a substitute for individualised professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and reliance should not be placed on it. For personalised medical or nutrition advice, please make an appointment with your doctor, dietitian or qualified health care professional.

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