Everybody knows electrolytes are important, but very few actually know why. We know they’re in sports drinks, coconut water, and even some energy drinks, and have heard that we need more of these healthy minerals when we sweat, but what exactly are they and why do we need them? Can sports beverages or electrolyte drinks actually help decrease recovery time post-workout? Keep reading to find out!
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are found in your blood, tissues, urine, and other bodily fluids. Everybody needs electrolytes in order to survive because many automatic processes in your body rely on a small electrical current in order to function - electrolytes provide this charge. Some of the main functions of electrolytes are to:
- Balance water within your body
- Move nutrients into your cells
- Move wastes out of your cells
- Make sure your nerves, muscles, brain and heart work they way they should
- Balance your body’s acid/base (pH) level
What are the Primary Electrolytes and What Do They Do?
Although there are a handful of electrolytes that are found in your body, the primary three are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These important minerals work together in harmony to maintain fluid balance and electric charges throughout your body. Other important electrolytes include calcium, phosphorus, and chloride.
Each electrolyte is important in different ways. For example, calcium builds strong bones, while phosphorus helps to structure cell membranes. They also work together to manage nerve transmission and fluid balance in addition to a multitude of functions beyond that: they transport nutrients around the body, help regulate hormone activity, heal wounds, regulate blood pressure and support metabolic function.
What is an Electrolyte Imbalance?
An electrolyte imbalance does not feel good by any means. It depends on which electrolyte you are lacking, but you could feel dehydrated, fatigued, dizziness, muscle spasms/cramping, digestive health issues, and even irritability. Many people tend to experience an imbalance from consuming too much sodium and too little potassium and magnesium, which can result in swollen toes and fingers, chronic stress, and lethargy. Long term and serious electrolyte imbalances can lead to renal dysfunction and in some cases, cardiac arrest.
Electrolytes and Working Out
If you have a very active lifestyle, chances are you may need more electrolytes than the average Joe. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts who exercise for over an hour at any given time should consume these electrolytes throughout their workout and after their workout. Why, you may ask? Because sweat is made up of sodium. As you exercise and sweat, you naturally lose this crucial mineral and since electrolytes go hand in hand, your body will naturally lose other minerals in an attempt to balance your body and compensate for the loss of sodium. This means that if you don’t replenish the electrolytes you lose from exercise, you can become deficient and experience headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramping - and who wants to deal with that!?
Okay, so can sports drinks actually help with recovery? Good question - let’s find out!
Sports Drinks and Recovery Time Post-Workout
The main ingredient found in sports drinks is water, but they also contain other substances like carbs, electrolytes, added sugars or artificial sweeteners, BCAAs (amino acids), and even extra vitamin C, which are all supposed to help with hydrating and improving performance. The carbohydrates that are commonly found in these trendy drinks are often in the form of sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. However, as the world begins to shift into a much healthier direction, the amount of sugar in sports beverages is being more closely looked at, and low-carb, zero-calorie, and no-sugar sports drink options are beginning to emerge, especially with the use of healthier sweetener alternatives like stevia or monk fruit.
Healthy sports drinks are a great way to decrease recovery time after high-intensity physical activity because they can help meet nutritional recovery goals by replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat. While plain water is great to rehydrate, drinking water can't replenish electrolytes. In addition, the carbohydrates help to replenish your glycogen stores to keep your energy levels up. If there is limited time between competition or training sessions, the bottom line is that sports drinks with a higher sodium content may promote more effective rehydration. However, to meet all recovery goals, consuming sports drinks should be complemented with healthy whole foods that can provide protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients that are essential to sports nutrition for proper recovery and replenishing blood sugar.
If sports drinks aren’t really your thing, then you’re in luck, because electrolyte drinks and electrolyte supplements are available! If you are following a special diet like keto that doesn’t allow you to consume the carbs found in many of these popular sports drinks, supplements like Adapted Nutrition’s Sea Salt Capsules can help. These potent salt capsules deliver rapid rehydration to recover fast and kick muscle cramps to the curb - without the carbs. Don’t like swallowing capsules? Adapted Nutrition offers natural electrolyte supplements in many different forms making it easier than ever to fuel your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to support your active lifestyle--whether you're an avid cyclist, on your weight loss journey, or just an overall exerciser-enthusiast, sports nutrition is important!
So, can sports drinks decrease recovery time? The answer is: yes! After a challenging high-intensity workout, your body will naturally become slightly electrolyte deficient. It is important to keep your body hydrated and adequately fueled during and after exercise to prevent headaches and muscle cramps. Although there are a large range of products marketed with reference to performance, sports drinks are specifically designed to provide the right balance of electrolytes, carbs, and fluid to properly fuel your workout. When used appropriately, sports drinks are an ideal choice when looking to decrease your post-workout recovery time.
If you are an athlete or a fitness enthusiast looking for ways to shorten your recovery time, look no further because sports drinks can help. Sports drinks provide the proper nutrition needed to refuel after a challenging workout. However, not all sports drinks are created equal! Be sure to stay away from beverages that contain high amounts of added sugar, artificial sweeteners or flavors, and fillers which can do more harm to your recovery efforts than good.
When in doubt, stick to clean electrolyte supplementation from honest and reputable companies like Adapted Nutrition. They provide top-quality vitamin and mineral supplementation from natural sources to fuel your body with only the best of the best. Never with any added sugar or artificial fillers - just clean supplementation, every time.