Blog Posts, Fitness myths, Uncategorized

Myth #17: Electrolytes only matter if you sweat a lot

You’ve seen the commericals and ads right? Buff bods that are covered in sweat, and the person is drinking guzzling some sports drink. The ad lets you know that you need to replenish your electrolytes. While I don’t necessarily think that an expensive, sugary sports drink is the way to go, at least not proactively, there is at least some truth to this advertising.

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You do need to be thinking about electrolytes, and not just if you sweat a lot. Electrolytes are made up of Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium,  Chloride and Phosphate. Sodium and potassium are the two that you’re most likely to get out of whack due to dietary insufficiencies, annnnd they work as a team. I’d make the argument that most people are at least slightly deficient in Magnesium unless they are supplementing, but it doesn’t seem to be as problematic as being potassium depleted. (Hypokalemia)  So before I get too science-y, here’s why it matters.  Sodium and Potassium together control the balance of intracellular (fluid that’s inside your cells) to extracellular fluid (yes, you smart thing you, fluid that is outside of your cells). The electrolytes also control nerve and muscle function.


Some signs of electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Muscle cramps (You complain of a cramp while training with me, or tell me about the leg cramps that wake you up– my first question is going to be about how you’re eating.)
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • nausea/vomiting
  • trembling
  • constipation
  • dry skin
  • muscle weakness
  • stiff or aching joints

But wake up and pay attention here… one of the things that can happen when electrolytes become severely out whack is heart arrhythmia. Yeah, it can cause a heart attack, which can be severe enough to lead to death. (I personally know of two people that have had heart attacks related to electrolyte imbalance.) When you hear about marathoners who die midrace and think “How can that happen? They must be in great shape!”, this is what’s happening.

Electrolyte imbalance can be caused by several things, like sweating, vomiting and diarrhea. But it can also happen from not minding your nutritional P’s and Q’s.  Sodium and Potassium are happiest when they are in a 3:1 ratio of Potassium to Sodium.  The problem is that most people eating the Standard American Diet (ironically, SAD) are eating the exact opposite of that.  A safe level of Sodium is 1500-2000 (the upper limit is for people who sweat a lot) milligrams per day.  1 (!!!!) smothered chicken burrito from Taco Bell has 2200 milligrams of sodium! And most people aren’t eating just one item. Wanna do something fun? (Ok, no, not fun at all.) Get the nutritional info from your favorite fast food or sit down restaurant, and scan down the sodium column.  It ain’t pretty!

The other place where we’re failing as eaters (ok, let’s be honest here… we’re making lots of food mistakes), is we’re falling waaaaaay short on Potassium.  Why? Because potassium is primarily found in vegetables, and to a lesser extent fruit.  Remember how your mom made you eat your vegetables? Turns out she wasn’t just being a meanie head, like your four year old self called her.  If you’re eating 1500mg of sodium, you’re shooting for 4500 mg of potassium per day, which is no easy feat.  Here are some of my best recommendations for upping your daily intake.  And before you tell me you eat bananas so you’re good, actually they aren’t really a potassium powerhouse.  They have about 1/3 of what a potato with the skin has.

  • Medium Potato (eat the skin!)
  • Spinach or other dark, leafy greens
  • mushrooms
  • Kiwi
  • Low Sodium V8 juice (has 3x the potassium of normal v8 Juice).
  • Coconut Water
  • Vitamin Water (made by Glaceau.  It’s usually in or around the bottled water section “Revive” is the only one with a sufficient amount of potassium.  It’s a berry color.)

Occasionally, you made need a fancy, schmancy sports drink– like while you have the sportsdrinks flu, and nothing you’re ingesting is staying where it belongs.  But if you’re watching your electrolytes on the regular, you’re being much more proactive about it.

Think eating healthy foods means you are eating healthily? Check out tomorrow’s post!

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