Electrolyte Needs for the Non-Athlete: What are they? How much? How often?

Electrolyte Needs for the Non-Athlete: What are they? How much? How often?

You may be under the impression that electrolyte supplements are only for the super athlete. The marathoner, the Ironman, the extreme athlete you see flipping tires, lifting hundreds of pounds at a time or pulling two-a-days like it’s their job. However, that is not always the case. In this article, we will review what electrolytes are, why we need them, when to supplement and how much we may need.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential minerals that play many different roles in our body. You might know some of these minerals by their everyday names – calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Each mineral is critical to our body and has its own special function. For example, calcium, helps regulate blood clotting, heart rhythm and how blood vessels dilate and contract. Magnesium helps many enzymes function. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure. Sodium helps restore the body's fluid balance after prolonged sweating or illness.

Electrolytes play a role in training and competition, but also in day-to-day activities. Whether you are hitting the gym for weight training, doing yardwork in 90+ degree weather, or other physical activity lasting longer than 1 hour, you are likely going to sweat. Sweating is natural and good for you. It is your body’s way of cooling down. The issue, those drops of sweat running down your brow, not only cool you down, but take key electrolytes with it, resulting in an imbalance. 

Replenishing those electrolytes lost and regaining fluid balance is critical. Sometimes, water alone will not do what your body needs. When electrolytes are lost through intense activity or dehydration, it is important to replenish and reestablish a healthy balance. Now the question is – how do you do that?

Can I find electrolytes in my normal diet?

The short answer, yes. Electrolytes can be found naturally in a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy-rich foods and proteins. Examples of electrolyte rich foods include avocado, coconut, potatoes, banana, watermelon, strawberries, kale, legumes, milk, yogurt, chicken, turkey and fish. If you are eating a well-balanced diet consisting of whole foods and limited sugar, the odds are, you are meeting your basic needs for electrolyte replacement. In some instances, however, electrolyte replacement via supplemental routes (i.e. drink, concentrate, capsule or powder) may be necessary and a quick, easy way to replace any fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during instances of extreme heat, activity or illness.

When should I supplement electrolytes?

Electrolytes leave your body through sweat and urine. If you happen to be the one bringing a spare shirt due to sweating through your first one no matter the activity or if you live in an area with extremely hot temperatures during the summer months, electrolyte supplementation is likely something to look into. Regardless of weather, if you are engaging in intense exercise for greater than 1-2 hours at a time, you also may benefit from electrolyte repletion before, during and after the activity.  

Another group that should consider electrolyte supplementation is anyone at risk for dehydration, such as those struggling with an illness resulting in a high fever, diarrhea or vomiting.

When it comes to determining “how much” or “how often” you should supplement, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Various factors such as gender, age, weight, and activity level all have an influence when determining your hydration and electrolyte needs to ensure balance and peak performance. One of the best things you can do for your body is listen to it. Be aware of the signs of electrolyte loss and dehydration. A few signs to be on the lookout for include headache, fatigue, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, dizziness, and irregular heart rhythm. Nausea post-workout can be another sign of an imbalance and may improve with proper refueling. 

What to look for in an electrolyte supplement?

Ok, you have identified the need to add an electrolyte replacement in your routine, but you don’t know where to go from here. A few key points to look for when choosing the best electrolyte replacement for you should include:

Artificial or alternative sweeteners. Artificial sugar and certain alternative sweeteners (often added to help with taste), can lead to gastrointestinal upset, especially during times of exercise. If you are one who does better without sugar additives, it may be worth trialing capsules, concentrates or unflavored electrolyte options. If you do tolerate a certain level of sweetener and like a little added flavor, remember, a little can go a long way. Bottom line, less is more. Look for companies that aim for limited or no artificial or alternative sweeteners.

Excess calories. Calories in electrolyte replacements are usually the result of added sugar or carbohydrate within the supplement. It is important to note, sugar is not evil when exercising. Exercise draws on stored sugar from your muscles and liver during intense bouts. As your body rebuilds those stores, it will take from your blood sugar. Having just the right amount of sugar while exercising can aid in recovery and performance, however, it is a fine line. Too much sugar during or pre-workout can have the opposite effect, leaving you without energy and feeling sluggish. Finding electrolyte replacements with just enough sugar, but not overloaded is key. A good rule of thumb is, for exercise or activity lasting less than one hour, limited to no added sugar would be ideal. For activity lasting longer than one hour or at an extremely high intensity level, consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate as tolerated.

The correct electrolyte profile for you. Just like anything, it is important to find the best match for you as an individual. Electrolyte replacements are not one-size-fits-all. If you are an excessive sweater, it is important to choose a supplement that is higher in sodium to help replenish those stores lost in sweat. A good option would be Adapted Nutrition’s Hi-Lyte Pro. With 500 mg of sodium per serving, the balance of key minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium allows for balanced repletion. 

On a different note, you may not sweat any more than the next guy, however, you work long hours, in the hot sun in a very labor-intensive role. Finding a supplement that is quick, easy and balanced is key in this instance. Something like Adapted Nutrition’s Hi-Lyte Concentrate mixed with water could be a great solution keeping you always ready to go!

Remember, electrolyte replacement options are not just for the super athletes. There are instances where we all can benefit from the right one. If you find yourself on the hunt for one that fits into your lifestyle and specific needs, look for an electrolyte replacement that has clean, non-artificial ingredients with a wide range of supplement options to ensure you can find the best match for you. 

Whether you prefer a concentrate, capsule or even a powder – you will find what you need to give any beverage a powerful electrolyte punch at Adapted Nutrition