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November 15, 2022 7 min read

Did you know that your body has electricity running through it? If you thought “electrolyte” is just an insignificant wellness buzzword, you’d be wrong. Electrolytes are crucial for your body to perform vital functions. They are minerals carrying an electric charge, found in your sweat, urine, and blood.

The body processes affected by electrolytes include muscle and brain functions. The minerals with electric charges include sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chloride. If the electrolyte levels in your body drop too low, your body cannot function. Muscle contractions, blood clotting, fluid regulation, and acid balance can be compromised.

Your heart is a muscle, therefore without sufficient electrolytes your heartbeat will become irregular, and it could lead to your death.

In this article, we’ll tell you what happens when your body is low on electrolytes and how you can ensure your electrolyte levels don’t drop.

Dehydration and low levels of electrolytes are often confused and wrongly regarded as the same condition. Electrolyte imbalances can affect your fluid levels, leading to dehydration. Dehydration is a condition where fluid loss exceeds fluid intake. It can also be caused by electrolyte imbalances. However, drinking water and staying hydrated are crucial.

Rehydration – Image from Shutterstock

If you are serious about optimal performance in your chosen physical activities, be it strength building, weight lifting, bodybuilding, field and track, or just fitness enthusiasm, you would want to ensure your heart and muscles are armed with sufficient electrolytes.

Oral rehydration like STEEL’s HYPERADE is an effective solution to ensure the required electrolyte balance.

Low electrolyte levels can also speed up muscle fatigue, and hydration during strenuous physical activity can prevent the slowing down of muscle contractions while also lowering muscle tension development.

What do electrolytes do?

Although electrolytes don’t run your body, they certainly make it run smoothly. Similar to your car’s battery, electrolytes in your blood and body fluids stimulate the voltages that carry the electrical impulses between your cells as muscle contractions and nerve impulses. The electrical energy these minerals provide maintains organ function and optimum nervous, digestive, muscular, and cardiac performance.

Electrolytes - Image from Shutterstock

Below are the electrically charged minerals and their functions.

  1. Sodium — Sufficient sodium levels control your body fluid levels and aid in muscle and nerve functions.
  2. Calcium— Calcium aids contractions and expansion of your muscles and your blood vessels to help regulate your heartbeat and prevent high blood pressure. It also helps the nervous system send messages by secreting enzymes (proteins) and hormones.
  3. Potassium — Supports muscle, nerve, and heart functions. Potassium is also responsible for moving nutrients into cells and removing waste products from them as it supports your metabolism. Furthermore, it aids in muscle contraction, nerve impulse conduction, and the regulation of your heartbeat.
  4. Magnesium — When it comes to chemical reactions like supporting muscle contraction, regulating heart rate, and more, sufficient magnesium levels are vital.
  5. Chloride — Plays a part in maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood levels while also helping support the inside and outside fluid levels of body cells.
  6. Bicarbonate — Helps with the movement of waste products like carbon dioxide through the bloodstream, and it balances alkaline compounds and acids in your blood (pH balance).
  7. Phosphate — Your nerve and muscle functions, along with your skeletal system depend on the support of sufficient phosphate levels.

Causes of electrolyte and water loss during physical workouts

Typically, sweat loss is the primary cause of electrolyte loss during exercise activities. Sweating plays a significant role in electrolyte loss, which compromises your body’s ability to regulate itself. The more you sweat during exercise, the more electrolytes you lose.

Sweating strength builder – Image from Shutterstock

Keep in mind that each person is unique and the level of fluid loss during exercise involves many factors. Excessive sweating from exercise is only one of many contributors to fluid and electrolyte loss, and others are listed below.

Exercise Conditions:

  • Exercising in humid or hot weather conditions
  • Inappropriate clothing that doesn’t breathe
  • Physical activity lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes
  • High-intensity workouts

Personal considerations:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Body size and composition
  • Hydration status
  • Diet

Other Factors:

Avoid working out if you’re suffering a bout of vomiting or diarrhea after taking laxatives for constipation, which are both conditions that could drain you of electrolytes.

What are the terms for the types of electrolyte imbalances?

An electrolyte imbalance does not occur only when levels are too low, but also when there are excessive mineral levels in your blood. The medical terms for these imbalances typically start with hypo for deficiencies and hyper for excessive levels, as indicated below.

  • Sodium: Hyponatremia or Hypernatremia

  • Potassium: Hypokalemia or Hyperkalemia

  • Calcium: Hypocalcemia or Hypercalcemia

  • Chloride:Hypochloremia or Hyperchloremia

  • Magnesium: Hypomagnesemia or Hypermagnesemia

  • Phosphate: Hypophosphatemia or Hyperphosphatemia

  • Bicarbonate: Acidosis (high acid levels)

  • Alkalosis:High alkaline levels.

Symptoms of low electrolytes

The most common sign of low electrolyte levels is muscle cramping, which can be excruciating and debilitating. But many other symptoms can indicate mineral shortages, and the following list may help you identify the specific mineral shortage you have.

  1. Insufficient sodium: Low sodium levels occur when excessive amounts of water move into cells. Symptoms include mental confusion, apathy, and other cognitive changes, Seizures can also result from Hyponatremia. 
  2. Insufficient potassium: Low potassium symptoms may be insignificant at first, but the lower the potassium levels dip, the more severe the symptoms could be. They include muscle weakness, cramps, spasms, abnormal heart rhythm, and kidney damage.
  3. Insufficient calcium: Symptoms may be absent in acute situations but if you have chronically low calcium levels, an endless list of changes can occur, most notably in your muscles and brain. Changes may occur as increased muscle cramps or spasms. Hypocalcemia could alter your reflexes, and cause behavioral changes or mental confusion. Chronic calcium deficiency could even cause changes to your hair and skin.
  4. Insufficient magnesium: Low magnesium symptoms are similar to low calcium and low potassium. Hypomagnesemia symptoms include muscle spasms, severe muscle weakness that could lead to trouble breathing, abnormal heart rate, and even cardiac arrest.
  5. Insufficient chloride: Low chloride levels often occur after the use of diuretics or due to excessive vomiting. Symptoms include losing muscle control, muscle spasms, and confusion. Hypochloremia and hyponatremia usually coincide, since together, chloride and sodium make salt, so, when one is low, the other is low.
  6. Insufficient phosphate: Low phosphate levels can result from taking diuretics, diabetic ketoacidosis, a poor diet, or excessive alcohol use. The most common symptom at first is muscle weakness. However, critically low phosphate levels can lead to tissue breakdown causing kidney damage, seizures, decreased respiratory health, and heart failure.
  7. Insufficient bicarbonate: Excessive acid in your blood causes a drop in bicarbonate levels. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, mental confusion, and an increased respiratory rate are common symptoms.

Many of the symptoms of low electrolytes are often confused with other health conditions. However, if you are physically active and spend a lot of time working out and experience muscle weakness or cramping, irregular heartbeat, or any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your physician without delay.

Untreated electrolyte disorders can have devastating consequences. In serious cases, seizures or other life-threatening conditions like kidney disease, heart failure, or cardiac arrest could result.

Electrolyte test - Image from Shutterstock

Your physician will explain the testing procedures that typically involve blood work to test your electrolyte levels. A comprehensive or basic metabolic panel will determine the fluid and electrolytes balance, the glucose levels, and the blood urea nitrogen levels to test kidney function.

How to Replenish Electrolytes

Although sports drinks can help you maintain safe electrolyte levels immediately before, during, and after strenuous exercise, you should also ensure that your diet includes the necessary minerals. Some gym goers and athletes tend to think that hydrating and replenishing electrolytes in the body can all be done by drinking a sports drink after exercising.

Foods to Help Replace Electrolytes

  • Sodium — Canned vegetables, soup, and vegetable juice. Do not disregard the salt you consume in your daily diet, so you might not need to add additional sources of sodium.
  • Chloride — Tomatoes, celery, and seafood. Remember, your daily diet’s salt content includes both sodium and chloride, so you might not lack chloride.
  • Potassium — Coconut water, bananas, spinach, and oranges
  • Calcium — Leafy greens like spinach, yogurt, and milk
  • Magnesium — Avocados, cashews, and pumpkin seeds

More examples of food rich in minerals to balance electrolytes include potatoes, turkey, beans, edamame or soybeans, and strawberries.

How to stay hydrated during workouts

Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining balanced electrolyte levels. Although water is the most natural choice for hydration, it does not contain the necessary electrolytes for optimal health while working out. Drinking an electrolyte replenishing solution like HYPERADE is very effective.

Athletes and gym goers who sweat more than normal due to their strenuous workouts usually prefer sports drinks that contain added minerals to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating. The added flavors and sugar of sports drinks also make them more popular than water.

Woman rehydrating -Image from Shutterstock

PRO TIP:Don’t rehydrate with carbonated or energy drinks. They may cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar levels.

What to look for in a sports drink

Whether you're training for a triathlon, lifting weights, riding motocross, skateboarding, or playing baseball, football, or hockey, you cannot adequately restore muscle electrolytes and glycogen with food alone. You need a sports drink like HyperAde, which is designed to be taken pre-workout, intra-workout, and/or post-workout.

HyperAde quickly replenishes muscle glycogen and electrolytes that are depleted from intense bursts of energy. It includes 25g of fast-digesting carbs from Cluster Dextrin, a superior carbohydrate that delivers smooth, constant energy and replenishes muscle glycogen storage without spiking blood sugar levels, making it more absorbable and readily available for your body to burn as energy.

HyperAde is a non-stimulant electrolyte glycogen supplement that can be stacked with any of the other STEEL products.

HyperAde is the superior alternative to sugar-filled sports drinks, with a full profile of BCAAs, and is available in 3 delicious flavors. It will fuel your most grueling training sessions and power your body to train longer and harder.

Read the Science behind HYPERADE by Dr. Paul Henning here.

In a Nutshell

 

Electrolytes play vital roles in many essential body functions. For optimal performance in your chosen physical activities, keeping electrolytes balanced is crucial.

You’d be surprised how many electrolytes you lose during a workout that has you sweating excessively. Therefore, it's important to keep your electrolytes balanced throughout your workout and beyond.