Scenario: Say I walked up to the average Joe on the street and asked, “Hey Joe, do you know what electrolytes are?” He might reply, “sure they keep you from cramping up” (this hypothetical takes place in one of the friendlier states where the average Joe would play along without vulgarities).
My response to that thought, “electrolytes are more important than that, Average Joe!”
Without electrolytes in your body, you would fall into a paralytic heap and die rather quickly. Joe’s remark (provided he was still inclined to further talk electrolytes with me) might be, “well then I better take a lot of them!” – Wrong again Joe, Wrong again.
Electrolytes – Essential to Human Health
Calcium, chloride magnesium, potassium, and sodium ions. They are responsible for the proper functioning of the muscular, digestive, cardiac and nervous systems. Electrolytes carry an electric charge and are crucial for allowing a person’s cells to create energy, they also direct water and nutrients in the body.
I know what your athlete-mind might be responding, “drink a Gatorade, pop a salt tablet and ride on, duhh.” Well … not exactly.
Replace electrolytes at a rate of 1/3 the amount that you have lost. This becomes more logical if you think about caloric, and hydraulic input vs output.
For example: My Olympic triathlon – I’m a 230 pound guy who burned approximately 4,500 calories over roughly three hours. Based on my biology, I lost three grams of sodium during the race. What I shouldn’t do is to replace it with three 1,000 mg. salt tablets much less take a thousand mg. tablet during the race! Assume there is one gram of sodium per liter of sweat lost so I could have gotten away with approximately 300 mg. per hour of sodium.
Lesson: Only supplement with exogenous electrolytes 1/3 of what you lost during exercise. Or slowly replace what you are losing. The risk is swelling up and shutting down precious receptors that are in charge of the body’s electrolyte regulation system and thus will not operate at peak performance!
The Science Behind Balanced Electrolytes
Exogenous supplementation of too much sodium has serious health risks including Edema (swelling of hands and feet) and high blood pressure. If you take an excessive amount of sodium the hormone receptors that are in charge of telling your kidneys to filter and regulate sodium production become neutralized. As a result, the kidneys will stop filtering and trying to recover sodium that’s already in the body. Instead of filtering that sodium, the kidneys will start excreting sodium and another type of hormone that will make you swell. And none of this helps us PR a half marathon.
Question: “But we are losing electrolytes while we train, so how do we supplement them without bloating up?”
When I finished, I didn’t eat thirteen hamburgers to replace the calories I lost, or pound three liters of water to replace the fluids I had lost. Even if I could eat 13 hamburgers (don’t scoff if you know my eating habits) my body can only process so much at a time. Only a certain amount of nutrients are bioavailable in one sitting.
- Tip 1: Slowly Supplement what you are losing in-sport
- Tip 2: More is NOT better
- Tip 3: Support your body’s natural electrolyte production with proper electrolyte replenishment!
The Moral of the Electrolyte Story
Take it slow. Start with small amounts of quality, balanced electrolyte replenishment (think: Arcana-Lyte!) while training, and don’t fall for a huge milligram count and think more is better. Know how and when to incorporate an electrolyte supplementation regimen. Base your supplementation on your activity and training load (i.e. intensity of your workout from day-to-day).
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