Electrolytes (also called mineral salts) have an important role in sport & exercise. To begin with, they literally get you off the start line by allowing your muscle fibres to contract and function properly. As the duration of your exercise increases, you also need to replace the salts you lose naturally in sweat to help avoid that dreaded onset of cramp or fatigue.
Our sports nutritionist Marewa Sutherland tackles some common questions we often get asked on electrolytes:
What are electrolytes?
In simple terms, electrolytes are salts which are dissolved in and around the cells in our body. But these are very important salts that carry charges (needed for muscle movement) and help balance fluid levels inside and outside of cells.
Why do I need electrolytes?
A few reasons here, firstly electrolytes are lost in sweat so if you are exercising for over about 60-90 minutes these need to be replaced back into your body so your muscles can still move (avoiding cramp/fatigue).
They also help hydrate your body by pulling water through from your stomach (intestine) into your cells. A flow on effect of this is that keeping your body in a hydrated state means you're able to help keep your body cooler and again avoid the downward spiral to fatigue.
Having electrolytes included in a sports drink not only helps to keep you hydrated but to help keep your muscles balanced & working properly during exercise.
What electrolytes are in sweat?
Sodium is the predominant electrolyte in sweat but calcium, potassium and magnesium are also present. This is why you will often find these added electrolytes (mineral salts) in sports nutrition products - helping you to replace those salts which are lost naturally through sweating.
How many electrolytes do I need?
This is tricky to answer as the rate at which we sweat and the concentration of salt levels in sweat is different for everyone. Generally, a sports drink is sufficient to replace your lost electrolytes in exercise over 90 minutes (or high-intensity short stints). Some situations where you may need more include being in a hot & humid environment or if you are prone to muscle cramping.
Can I double the concentration of my sports drink to get more electrolytes?
Theoretically yes but we don't recommend it! The PURE Electrolyte Hydration range is designed to be made at the instructed concentration to help hydrate your body as fast as possible. Increasing the concentration, and therefore the levels of carbohydrates, could potentially cause stomach upsets.
PURE Electrolyte Replacement Capsules are designed to take either on their own or alongside the PURE Electrolyte Hydration range, so you can increase your electrolyte levels with these handy capsules. Each capsule contains the essential electrolytes - sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Simply take with water or sports drink - no need to dissolve and they are completely tasteless (no nasty salty aftertaste!).
I'm just walking a half marathon, will I need to take electrolytes?
Yes, yes, yes. Even low-intensity exercise goers still need to replace electrolytes. You still sweat, even in cold weather, so you still lose electrolytes from your body. If you don't replace these or drink too much water while exercising (particularly low intensity, long duration) you can potentially get a condition called Hyponatraemia. This is where the sodium levels in your body are diluted to dangerously low levels. Symptoms include nausea, confusion and headaches.
So even if you are participating in low intensity exercise, even in cold weather, if you're going long then you need to be replacing your salts which are lost through sweating.
What other ways can I replace electrolytes while exercising?
Sports drinks or PURE Electrolyte Replacement Capsules are the most convenient method during exercise, however energy gels, some sports lollies or real food (mainly salty foods) also have added electrolytes - simply read the nutritional panel of each item for its added salts (listed as sodium).