You may have noticed more products on the market today than ever before that are designed to aid in electrolyte replacement. What exactly are all these products and how do they work? In this article, we are going to explore what electrolytes are and why your body needs them. These electrolyte supplements are usually made up of a blend of ingredients to maximize their results, so we will look at this in detail. We will then make a recommendation for the best electrolyte supplement and what to look out for.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes come from the food you eat. Electrolytes include:
Electrolytes dissolve in the fluid in your body and take on a positive or negative charge. They can then move electrical charges or signals as they conduct electricity. Your body requires electrolytes to absorb nutrients. This is necessary for everyone, not just performance athletes.
How do electrolytes work in the body?
Many functions, including creation of new tissue, muscles, nerves, and brain operations, are because of these charges. Electrolytes keep you hydrated and regulate your acid-base (pH) balance. In your body, electrolytes are found in your blood, sweat and urine.
Studies show that each electrolyte has primary functions in your body:
- Sodium: helps control fluids in the body, impacting blood pressure; necessary for muscle and nerve function
- Chloride: helps balance electrolytes; balances acidity and alkalinity, which helps maintain a healthy pH; essential to digestion
- Potassium: regulates your heart and blood pressure; helps balance electrolytes; aids in transmitting nerve impulses; contributes to bone health; necessary for muscle contraction
- Magnesium: important to the production of DNA and RNA; contributes to nerve and muscle function; helps maintain heart rhythm; helps regulate blood glucose levels; enhances your immune system
- Calcium: the key component of bones and teeth; important to the movement of nerve impulses and muscle movement; contributes to blood clotting
- Phosphate: strengthens bones and teeth; helps cells produce the energy needed for tissue growth and repair
- Bicarbonate: helps your body maintain a healthy pH, regulates heart function
You can see from this information that it is necessary to keep up with your electrolyte intake. They are crucial, not only to keep your body balanced internally but also to maintain function in your nerves and muscles. We mentioned these briefly above, but let’s explore them in a little more detail:
- Nervous System: the brain is responsible for the electrical signals that are sent through your nerve cells which then connects to the cells in the rest of your body. These are nervous impulses which are caused by the nerve cell membrane changing its electrical charge. This happens when the electrolyte, in this case, it’s sodium, moves through the nerve cell membrane. A chain reaction then occurs which moves more sodium throughout the length of the nerve cell axon which changes the electrical charge.
- Muscle Function: muscle contraction requires electrolytes calcium and magnesium. Contraction occurs as the muscle shortens and contracts. Calcium allows the fibers of the muscle to move over each other and slide together. Magnesium is required in this process so that the muscle fibers can slide outward and are able to relax after contraction.
- Hydration: many people think of proper hydration and then look at water intake. Did you know that you can drink more than the recommended amount of water and still not feel well? This occurs because you need electrolytes to balance the fluid inside and outside of your cells. Sodium, more precisely, is responsible for this fluid balance through a process called osmosis. In this process, water moves across cell walls from a place of dilution (more water and less electrolytes) to a place of more concentration (less water and more electrolytes). In doing so, the cells are balanced and will not burst with too much water or become dehydrated and shrivel up.
Levels: the internal pH of your body needs to be balanced in order to stay healthy. What is pH? Every solution has a balance of base and acid. In your body, the pH level of your blood can be measured to see how acidic or alkaline your body is. This balance is monitored and controlled by chemical buffers (weak acids and bases). They assist in keeping your internal environment balanced and minimizing changes in pH. Your blood is regulated to stay at a certain pH range. It is possible to become ill if the pH deviates from that range because your body cannot function how it is supposed to. Long story short, your blood pH level can be maintained by having the right balance of electrolytes.
What happens if there is an imbalance?
You might be wondering what happens if your electrolytes are not balanced. Imbalances that are minimal do not usually cause any symptoms. In most cases where symptoms are intense, it is because the electrolytes have become too low. You can end up dehydrated due to heat, illness (diarrhea or vomiting), or intense and/or prolonged physical activity. In these cases, you will want to make sure that you are replacing these lost fluids. There are more severe imbalances, and should you experience them, you will want to talk with your primary care physician. Symptoms of these include: convulsions, headaches, confusion, numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and cramping, fast or irregular heartbeat, and fatigue.
Electrolyte Supplements and Keto
If you are embarking upon a ketogenic diet, you might be wondering how electrolytes play into your diet. Remember that everyone needs electrolytes, being on a keto diet is no different. In fact, in the beginning, there may be some instances where electrolyte balance is key to resolving issues you may be having.
In a ketogenic diet, you will be eliminating the carbohydrates that your body burns first for energy. In doing this, your body will begin to burn fat for fuel. This is known as ketosis which is a metabolic process where your body uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The basis of the keto diet is to devise an eating plan that helps your body reach ketosis. More simply put, it is a low carbohydrate and high-fat diet. It consists of very little carbohydrates, moderate protein and focuses on healthy fats.
The keto flu is caused by the reduction of carbohydrates. Transitioning to a diet that is low in carbohydrates can cause symptoms like withdrawal. The body can go into shock like it does when caffeine or addictive substances are removed. During the first couple of weeks, your body is adjusting to the lack of carbohydrates and it is very important to pay attention to staying hydrated and adding electrolytes. You will eventually shift into ketosis. When starting keto, feel free to generously salt your foods or use an electrolyte supplement to help with sodium levels and to aid in combatting keto flu symptoms.
Keto and Electrolytes
You will want to be careful that the macronutrient content of your electrolytes stays within the appropriate and/or acceptable range. It is suggested to keep a close eye on the carbohydrate count to stay within your recommended grams for your plan. Most electrolytes on the market do not contain very much in the content of fat or protein but you will want to account for this if they do.