By Toria Cornett, ATC, CSCS
Hot weather is here and so is race season in the Northeast. Whether you are a weekend warrior or training for a triathalon, it is essential to understand the importance of electrolyte balance in humid weather. Doing so can help you prevent dehydration during fluid loss.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals in your body with an electric charge, like sodium, chloride and potassium. They are important in your blood chemistry and muscle action. Excessive electrolyte loss through sweating during exercise and humidity can lead to muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. An electrolyte imbalance can also lead to poor athletic performance. Making sure your electrolyte balance is optimal will help improve your performance.
What are the best sources of electrolytes?
A ton of marketing dollars are poured into selling electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade. Unfortunately these beverages contain a lot of unwanted sugars. Maintaining a well-balanced diet to replenish your electrolytes will help you avoid spending money on these expensive drinks. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium. However, if you are lactose intolerant you can get your calcium from eggs and fish. Salty foods are going to be your best source of sodium and chloride. Table salt is a great source. But we all know that too much of a good thing can be bad; beware of excess sodium in your diet. Bananas and oranges are excellent sources of potassium. All of these foods are necessary to maintain proper nerve and muscle function.
But how much is necessary for electrolyte balance?
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that “individuals should develop customized fluid replacement programs that prevent excessive (greater than 2 percent body weight reduction from baseline body weight) dehydration. Consumption of beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can help sustain fluid-electrolyte balance and exercise performance.” The Institute of Medicine states that the need for electrolyte replacement depends on the intensity of exercise. Although there is a need for electrolyte replacement, there aren’t the same clear guidelines on electrolyte replacement as on general hydration.
Bottom line? You can drink a ton of water before during and after your workouts, but if you’re not taking in proper levels of electrolytes, your performance will be greatly diminished. Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated to be your best both physically and mentally.