Electrolytes: Essential to life
Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge when they are dissolved in a liquid such as blood. The blood electrolytes—sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate—help regulate nerve and muscle function and maintain acid-base balance and water balance, essentially controlling the shift of fluid in and out of cells. These minerals derived from the earth’s crust, and are equally as important as vitamins to the body.
As we exercise and sweat, electrolytes are lost from the body which has a negative impact on performance. Electrolyte loss can result in cramping, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, headaches, confusion, loss of energy, drowsiness and fatigue. Clearly, these are not signs you want to be experiencing during a race or training! Let’s take a look at the top four electrolytes as they relate to sports performance, and exactly what they do in the body.
Sodium is the major regulator of fluid balance and volume in the body and is essential for nerve transmission and muscle function. Having enough sodium in your fluids is vital; without it you risk hyponatraemia which is a life threatening condition. Thankfully, this is less common than in the past, as most athletes are aware of the risks and use an electrolyte solution with adequate sodium such as Bindi Sports Hydration. Sodium also helps to draw fluid across your gut, ie it stops the ‘sloshy gut effect’ and gets the fluid out of your stomach and into your body more quickly. It’s important you have an electrolyte solution with enough sodium to do this; more traditional sports drinks were higher in sugar and didn’t contain enough sodium which quickly upsets your gut. Check your labels!!
Potassium is critical to the maintenance of fluid balance, nerve transmissions and muscle contractions. Potassium loss can contribute to muscular cramping, along with loss of other electrolytes, muscle fatigue and lack of conditioning (ie exercising harder than you have trained for).
Magnesium is an essential electrolyte for energy production, and it regulates muscle contraction along with calcium. It plays an important role in muscle function during exercise, helping to minimise the risk of muscular cramping. Consuming too much magnesium can cause digestive issues and there is a fine balance during endurance exercise. We have carefully formulated Bindi Sports Hydration to provide enough Magnesium without upsetting your gut.
Calcium is essential to life; it is vital for both muscle contraction and relaxation, and transmission of nerve impulses. Only 1% of your body’s calcium is found in body fluids; the rest is stored in your bones.
It starts with a healthy, balanced diet:
The best way to reach and maintain electrolyte balance is through a healthy diet, and the main food sources of electrolytes are fruits and vegetables. Salt in processed foods and added table salt can also increase levels. Electrolyte imbalances most commonly occur during severe dehydrated due to vomiting, diarrhea or excessive sweating. Severe imbalances can interfere with the way your body functions, and replacement of electrolytes through a balanced sports drink for example can be beneficial to avoid these imbalances.