When energy levels fall, it might sound like a quick fix to increase your calorie intake, consume an energy drink, or sleep more at night. The problem? That may not actually be what you need. A simple electrolyte imbalance could be the culprit.
Instead of resorting to temporary fixes, keep reading to learn what electrolytes are and how they can help with your energy levels, health, and performance.
What Are Electrolytes?
Many understand the key role that hydration plays in keeping us healthy and active. But when most people start working out, aside from the increased water intake, there's little concern about electrolytes. What are electrolytes and why do they matter?
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other bodily fluids that carry an electric charge. Sodium, chloride, potassium and calcium are all types of electrolytes. These electrically charged compounds help our body do most of its work - from producing energy to contracting your muscles. They are essential for carrying out many key functions, including:
- Maintaining the proper balance of fluids in your body
- Regulating blood pressure
- Powering your muscles (including your heart)
- Helping to mineralize your bones
- Regulating nerve and muscle function
Let’s have a closer look at how the following electrolytes play a role in energy production:
Magnesium is a cofactor in many reactions along the ATP production chain. Magnesium also regulates both potassium and calcium channels that support energy metabolism.
Potassium supports energy production in the cells, and with that, everything we do – from walking to just sitting and standing – depends on it. Potassium is the main electrolyte in intracellular fluid, and it determines the amount of water inside the cells.
Calcium is central to nerve and muscle function. Calcium ions play an important role by building interactions between proteins. In addition, calcium is a key regulator of mitochondrial function and acts within the cell to stimulate ATP production.
Do Electrolytes Give You Energy?
Electrolytes alone don’t provide an instant energy boost. But without them, it’s guaranteed you’ll feel less than 100%. Your energy is derived from the food you eat, which is converted into glucose and stored in your muscles as glycogen. When your body needs energy, it breaks down glycogen into glucose and uses it for fuel. Electrolytes help regulate this process, but they do not provide energy themselves.
The role that electrolytes play in your energy levels is mostly related to being properly hydrated. When you're dehydrated and low on electrolytes, your body becomes fatigued very quickly. But by making sure you have electrolytes in what you’re drinking, you can re-hydrate for peak performance.
What Causes An Electrolyte Imbalance?
Sweaty after a tough workout? As you sweat, you naturally lose electrolytes, which leads to dehydration if they aren’t replenished. When you're dehydrated, the body loses fluids and electrolytes at a much faster rate than it can replace them. This is where your vital organs – heart, lungs, and others – have to work exceptionally hard if they don't have enough fluid to use. You've probably felt the effects of dehydration if you’ve ever experienced light-headedness or dizziness during or after exercise.
Given their importance, it’s no surprise that an electrolyte imbalance can be caused by:
- Losing fluids as a result of sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Not drinking or eating enough
- Chronic respiratory problems, such as emphysema
- Medications such as steroids, diuretics and laxatives
Common Signs & Symptoms
Without enough water, sodium and other minerals, your body will struggle to deliver essential nutrients to cells. As a result, you may experience common signs of an imbalance:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Mental confusion
Proper Hydration is Key
Electrolytes help make the most of your water, which is the key to proper hydration.
Water is our body’s best form of transportation. When you're well-hydrated, nutrients can easily travel around your body, which aids in digestion and absorption. So if you're someone who likes to sweat it out at the gym, run marathons, or just enjoy spending time outdoors in the summer heat, then you know how important it is to stay hydrated. Keeping lots of water on hand is great, but it won’t do the job alone. If you drink only water without also replacing the nutrients you've lost, you're likely to have an electrolyte imbalance.
A common mistake that many make is assuming that any form of electrolyte-enhanced liquid will do. For example, many popular sports drinks are designed to replace the electrolytes lost during exercise. However, that quick burst of energy is mostly due to large quantities of sugar or caffeine. To replenish electrolyte levels, try the following healthy and natural alternatives below.
6 Ways You Can Replenish Electrolyte Levels Naturally
By following these tips, you can make sure that you’re getting the electrolytes you need to stay healthy and avoid problems down the road.
1. Liquid electrolyte supplement
Need a convenient, healthy way to replenish the balance of electrolytes in your body? Simply add a liquid multi-mineral formula to your daily routine. You can mix it into your water, juice, or smoothie for easy consumption. Be sure to start off slow and work your way up if you're not used to using an electrolyte formula.
2. Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods
Bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, spinach, and tomatoes are all great choices.
3. Drink coconut water
This natural beverage is packed with electrolytes and provides a great way to rehydrate after a workout.
4. Stay hydrated
Aim to drink half your body weight (in lbs) in ounces per day. Add ¼ tsp of sea salt in every pint of drinking water to restore minerals.
5. Limit your caffeine intake
Since coffee and other caffeinated drinks are diuretics, too much caffeine can be dehydrating.
6. Don’t push too hard
If you're feeling cramps or fatigue, stop exercising and replenish your fluids and electrolytes.
If you’re feeling sluggish, tired, or having some difficulty with your athletic performance, one factor to check into would be your electrolyte levels. Balanced nutrition and a high-quality electrolyte formula are great ways to help maximize and hydrate the body on a cellular level. By staying properly hydrated, you'll feel your energy increase and achieve better physical performance, emotional health, and much more.