What Do Electrolytes Actually Do?

If you are focused on health and wellness, we are sure you have heard a thing or two about electrolytes. They are a common “go-to” for hydration and post workout recovery and often taken as a morning-after hangover solution to battle waves of self-contempt and nausea. You may have also used them to replenish the body when experiencing flu-like symptoms. However, even though they are common, many people don’t know what electrolytes are or what they actually do. Just in case you are one of the many that are a little confused, here is everything you need to know about electrolytes. 

What Are Electrolytes?

Believe it or not, your body is working around the clock to keep itself in balance. One way it does this is with “ionic solutions”, called electrolytes. They work hard to keep your muscles, body, and nerves functioning properly. Some of the main functions that electrolytes help with are to:

  • Keep your body’s fluids balanced
  • Help your muscles like your heart contract
  • Maintain the right amount of acidity in your blood (pH)
  • Regulate and help stabilize blood pressure

Electrolytes are minerals that include potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, and calcium. Fluids conduct these essential minerals throughout your body to carry impulses from one cell to another. Without being properly charged, these cells and organs are not able to function properly. In fact, an electrolyte deficiency can lead to slow physical activity and cognitive function along with muscle cramping and could even result in more significant side effects like heart arrhythmia. 

Here is a break down of the main electrolytes that makes up your body:

Potassium – This essential mineral is important for normal cell function and is the one we associate the most with cramps. If you are potassium deficient, some of the most common side effects are hypertension, kidney damage, and heart palpitations. To avoid these, eat food that is rich in potassium like spinach, mushrooms, avocado and salmon.  

Sodium – Sodium is a crucial mineral that helps your body with water retention. It regulates the total amount of water in the body and supports healthy nerve function and impulses as well as the regulation of blood volume. If you are sodium deficient, you might experience fatigue, headaches, nausea, and muscle cramps.

Chloride – Chloride and sodium go hand in hand. In fact, when combined, they make table salt. However, on its own, chloride is an important mineral that works to maintain fluid balance, blood pressure and blood volume. If you are deficient in this electrolyte, reach for healthy food that is chloride dense like olives, rye, and tomatoes. 

Magnesium – One of the most abundant minerals found in the body is known as magnesium. This powerful electrolyte is responsible for some of your most important life processes, such as DNA and RNA synthesis, muscular contraction, and nerve transmission. If you are magnesium deficient, you may experience some side effects like fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle cramps and numbness. Stick to food that is high in magnesium like dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and spinach. 

Phosphate – This electrolyte plays a crucial role and is necessary for the formation of bones and teeth. Your body also needs phosphate to help build and repair bones, promote muscle contraction, and support healthy nerve function. When you are running low on this electrolyte, you may experience a little bit of nausea or joint pain. Eat food that is phosphate-dense such as chicken, nuts, and whole grains. 

Calcium – Calcium is another essential electrolyte that plays many different roles in the body like blood clotting, building strong bones and regulating healthy nerve function. If you are deficient in this mineral, you may experience common symptoms such as confusion, muscle spasms, and fatigue. If you are looking for food that is rich with calcium, opt for leafy green veggies, fish or milk.  

Okay, So What Do Electrolytes Do?

Now that you know what electrolytes are, let’s explore what they actually do! As we already covered, these minerals can help to keep you healthy. There are many ways in which electrolytes can do this, such as:

Keep us hydrated

Believe it or not, hydration is critical to your overall health and fitness. We already know that it is important to drink enough water after you exercise, but electrolytes play a role here too. These minerals, specifically sodium, help to balance your body’s fluids. This means that electrolytes stop your body from holding onto too much fluid or losing too much fluid, which can lead to dehydration.  

Supports muscles

When you’re working out and training hard, you need to make sure that your muscles perform at their best. While giving yourself adequate time for proper recovery is one piece of the puzzle here, electrolytes also help to support healthy muscle function. For example, calcium is extremely important for proper muscle contraction. This powerful electrolyte supports the movement of the muscle groups by helping the fibers to easily slide together as they contract. 

Helps the nervous system

Did you know that your nervous system is made up of a collection of cells and nerves that carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body? Sodium is a fundamental part of this system since it moves across the nerve cell membrane, creating those signals. Keeping that in mind, it is critical to keep your sodium levels balanced so your nervous system can function efficiently. 

The Takeaway!

Electrolytes are important. They play a vital role to your overall health and are essential minerals in your body. Keeping your levels balanced is important and can be achieved through eating a healthy diet. However, sometimes it can be a little tricky to fuel your body with the daily nutrients it needs to support your lifestyle. The good news is that there are some good electrolyte supplementation options available. If you are considering supplementing these healthy minerals into your diet, stay away from the popular sports drinks you see today that are loaded with sugar. Reach for supplements that focus on potassium and magnesium in addition to sodium, and use clean natural ingredients, from an honest and reputable company like Adapted Nutrition!