XPlained - Electrolytes

Electrolytes are key minerals used by the body to conduct electrical impulses that send signals to your muscles, controlling the amount of water stored in the body’s cells. Electrolytes are made up of several minerals including, Sodium, Potassium and Chloride (4) that can commonly be found in your sweat. This is why sweat has a salty taste to it as it contains sodium chloride, also known as “table salt”.

Electrolytes can be easily lost through sweating, with the average athlete losing around 5oz (0.4 litres) of sweat during 30 minutes of exercise (3). During one hour of exercise, the average athlete will lose 220mg of sodium, 63mg of potassium, 8mg of magnesium and 16mg calcium. That’s a lot of electrolytes to lose!

Loss of electrolytes has been shown to weaken performance and increase recovery time. When your body becomes low on electrolytes, you can experience a multitude of negative side effects including muscle cramping and heat stress, and in more severe cases, it can lead to fatigue, headaches, decreased stamina and even blood clotting.

Electrolytes are best consumed in accordance to the profile of electrolytes that your body naturally produces, your exact profile can be found through taking a sweat test. However, the Institute of Medicine recommends to keep sodium intake under 2000mg, while also consuming 4700mg of potassium, 330-350mg of magnesium, and 800mg of calcium per day (7)(8).

WHAT CAN ELECTROLYTES HELP WITH?

Dehydration and Overhydration:

70% of a person’s body weight is made up of water, an essential nutrient used to restore lost electrolytes and boost hydration (9). Loosing as little as 1 percent of your body mass in water can cause the effects of dehydration to occur, and can even become life threatening at 10 percent (1). One study on marathon runners found that they were suffering water deficiencies as they only drank half a pint (300ml of water) during their 20-mile run (13).

Dehydration is a serious issue amongst athletes with cases creating headaches, dizziness, tiredness, disorientation and even seizures in some athletes. However, many studies have shown how athletes should be more concerned with overhydration than dehydration.

Overhydration can occur when athletes use water to fuel themselves instead of replacing electrolytes through other means. Overhydration can be identified through a substantial weight gain due to the large amount of water retention caused by over drinking (10).

Although, hyperhydration can be beneficial pre-exercise due to its ability to improve endurance capacity, reduce thirst levels and decrease heart rate (6), it should still be used sparingly.

Hyponatremia:

Hyponatremia is a medical condition caused by low blood sodium levels, that can result in nausea, fatigue, cramping, vomiting, weakness, sleepiness, and in rare severe cases, loss of consciousness.

Hyponatremia is a known risk of endurance events to many athletes (5) and it has found to be the cause to various race-related deaths and life-threatening illness experienced by marathon runners.

During the 1981 and 1982 Comrades Marathons, there were multiple cases of hyponatremia due to several athletes drinking up to 10 litres of a Coca-Cola and water mixture, throughout the race, to hydrate themselves. Post-race these athletes experienced seizures, confusion, disorientation and loss of consciousness, resulting with all of them ending up in hospital (10).

A saline solution was used to restore their electrolyte levels back to normal, before they were released after 3 to 4 days. Later it was found that the Coca Cola and water mixture only replaced 10 percent of the electrolytes they lost during the marathon, causing their blood sodium levels to drop (10).

During the 2002 Boston Marathon, 64 of the runners were identified as having hyponatremia after taking a blood test post-race. Hyponatremia was linked to runners with longer race times of over 4 hours, runners that drank more than 3 litres during the entire race, runners that experienced substantial weight gain and runners that ingested fluids every mile (2).

45% of the Boston Marathon runners with Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia (EAH) that were able to drink a concentrated oral hypertonic solution, recovered within 30 minutes (12). 

Dysautonomia:

Over 70 million people worldwide live with some form of Dysautonomia, a chronic medical condition that prevents the autonomic nervous system from properly regulating changes in position, temperature, blood pressure or other responses to the environment. As a result, dysautonomia patients usually suffer from low blood pressure, light-headedness, chronic fatigue and fainting.

Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for several conditions such as Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Cystic Fibrosis (CF), and Vasovagal Syncope. Patients with these conditions are typically recommended to increase their fluid and salt intake by doctors to help increase blood volume.

Electrolyte replacements can increase sodium plasma levels which can help improve the symptoms of many Dysautonomia conditions. Saltstick Vitassium was specifically formulated for people with these conditions to increase sodium levels and combat the negative symptoms like fatigue and dizziness, due to low blood pressure.

Read our article about the Benefits of Vitassium here.

HOW TO REPLENISH LOST ELECTROLYTES:

The American College of Sports Medicine advises that post-exercise, the most important step should be to replace any lost electrolytes (11).

Electrolytes are naturally replenished by the body over time through water intake, however this is a long process which can take several days to be fully complete.

Natural ingredients such as Coconut Water and Salt have been used for centuries in electrolyte replacement to increase hydration levels. Bananas and Oranges are great sources of Potassium, a type of electrolyte which helps with long lasting muscle performance.

However, the best way to restore lost electrolytes is through electrolyte replacement mixtures such as Hydration Tabs, Gels, Drink Mixes, and Supplements. These products contain higher concentrations of electrolytes that closely match with the profile of electrolytes that your body already naturally produces.

Explore our range of Hydration brands including:

  • Nuun
  • High 5
  • GU
  • H2Pro
  • ORS
  • SIS GO Hydration
  • Phizz
  • OTE
  • Active Root
  • Saltstick

Want to supercharge your hydration and restore electrolytes?

SHOP ELECTROLYTE GELS | DRINKS | SUPPLEMENTS

References:

(1) Adolph, E.F., 1947. Physiology of Man in the Desert. Physiology of Man in the Desert.

(2) Almond, C.S., Shin, A.Y., Fortescue, E.B., Mannix, R.C., Wypij, D., Binstadt, B.A., Duncan, C.N., Olson, D.P., Salerno, A.E., Newburger, J.W. and Greenes, D.S., 2005. Hyponatremia among runners in the Boston Marathon. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(15), pp.1550-1556.

(3) Baker, L.B., 2017. Sweating rate and sweat sodium concentration in athletes: a review of methodology and intra/interindividual variability. Sports Medicine, 47(1), pp.111-128.

(4) Beck, D.E., 2003. Fluids, electrolytes and dehydration. Ostomy Quarterly, 40(2), pp.66-68.

(5) Frizzell, R.T., Lang, G.H., Lowance, D.C. and Lathan, S.R., 1986. Hyponatremia and ultramarathon running. Jama, 255(6), pp.772-774.

(6) Goulet, E.D., Rousseau, S.F., Lamboley, C.R., Plante, G.E. and Dionne, I.J., 2008. Pre-exercise hyperhydration delays dehydration and improves endurance capacity during 2 h of cycling in a temperate climate. Journal of physiological anthropology, 27(5), pp.263-271.

(7) Institute of Medicine (US). Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, 2004. DRI, dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. National Academy Press.

(8) Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997. Dietary reference intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride.

(9) Marriott, B. M., Newberry, S. J. (1996). Nutritional Needs in Cold and High-Altitude Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations. Ukraine: National Academy Press.

(10) Noakes, T.D., Goodwin, N., Rayner, B.L., Branken, T. and Taylor, R.K., 2005. Water Intoxication: a possible complication during endurance exercise. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 16(4), pp.221-227.

(11) Sawka, M.N., Burke, L.M., Eichner, E.R., Maughan, R.J., Montain, S.J. and Stachenfeld, N.S., 2007. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), pp.377-390.

(12) Siegel, A.J., d’Hemecourt, P., Adner, M.M., Shirey, T., Brown, J.L. and Lewandrowski, K.B., 2009. Exertional dysnatremia in collapsed marathon runners: a critical role for point-of-care testing to guide appropriate therapy. American journal of clinical pathology, 132(3), pp.336-340.

(13) Wyndham, C.H. and Strydom, N.B., 1969. The danger of an inadequate water intake during marathon running. South African Medical Journal, 43(7).

 

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