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With summer is just around the corner, ensuring your hydration needs are met is more important than ever. Most people understand the importance of drinking enough water. But did you know that proper hydration also involves maintaining a delicate balance of electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and are essential for many important bodily functions, including regulating fluid balance, promoting muscle function, and supporting nerve function. The most common electrolytes in our body are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.
When we lose body fluids, through sweat, urine or feces, we lose electrolytes. If not replenished, we can become dehydrated, leading to symptoms such as muscle cramping, fatigue, dizziness, and even confusion.
So, how can we ensure we’re getting enough electrolytes?
First and foremost, getting enough water is essential. A good rule of thumb is to consume half your body weight in oz. For example, a person who weighs 120 lbs would need 60 oz of water daily– which if you divide by 8 oz/glass, is between 7-8 glasses of good quality water. By good quality water, I mean that preferably doesn’t come out of a plastic bottle (since the plastics get leached into the water and can cause hormonal issues) and that is, at minimum, run through a filter (like a Brita, or other). Bear in mind, most water filters don’t filter out hormones or pharmaceuticals, so if you can afford to get a really good quality water filter (I recommend a Berkey), you should. Always carry a water bottle with you, made of either glass or stainless steel (and avoid bottled water or plastic water bottles whenever possible).
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just athletes who need to pay attention to their electrolyte intake. If you drink only water and are deficient in adequate minerals, the water will simply flush through your system and you will end up urinating frequently. Added electrolytes not only help your body function better physiologically, but will also help the water enter the cells, where it’s needed. An easy way to determine your hydration status is by checking out the color of your urine – if it’s slightly yellow or straw colored, you are getting enough water. If you have adequate water intake and your urine is clear, then you are simply flushing out your kidneys. Chances are you need more electrolytes. If your urine is yellow or amber, you are dehydrated. In this case, you need to increase both your electrolyte and your water intake.
What should your electrolytes include? You are losing magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium and trace minerals when you sweat or lose body fluids. So ideally, your electrolytes should focus on replacing those minerals. The salt in your electrolytes should be either sea salt (which contains 94 minerals, compared to refined table salt which contains 2) or Himalayan crystal salt, as both of these types also contain trace minerals necessary for good health.
What should your electrolytes not include? Ideally, you would choose a product that doesn’t contain refined (table) salt, extra sugars, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, artificial dyes and synthetic vitamins (such as folic acid).
Can you get electrolytes from foods? Certain foods and beverages contain electrolytes, such as coconut water. Coconut water is a great source of potassium, but is not a source of complete electrolyte replenishment. Sports drinks are designed to provide a balance of electrolytes, however, there’s great variation amongst brands and a lot of extra ingredients that are less than ideally healthy. Other food sources of electrolytes include leafy greens, avocado, bananas, nuts, and seeds.
Isn’t salt going to affect my blood pressure? Wherever salt (sodium chloride) goes, water follows. We need sodium for pumps that exist on every cell membrane to function properly, and chloride to make adequate stomach acid. Cravings for salt are often an indicator that we need more in our systems. Salty junk food like potato chips contains only refined salt and doesn’t contain the trace minerals you would get from a sea salt.
There’s a hormone called vasopressin (or anti-diuretic hormone) in our bodies that regulate our water status. When our bodies our dehydrated, higher concentrations of vasopressin is released to cause blood vessels to constrict (become narrower) and this increase blood pressure. A deficiency of body fluid (dehydration) can only be finally restored by increasing water intake. So high blood pressure is partly due to dehydration, which will be rectified once electrolyte and water intake is optimized.
So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish or experiencing muscle cramping, don’t just reach for a glass of water. Add some electrolyte-rich foods or beverages to your routine to ensure your body is getting the hydration it needs to function properly.
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