Whether browsing the drinks aisle in your local supermarket or shopping online for fitness products, many of us have seen drinks and supplements promising to replenish our electrolytes.
But what are electrolytes, and why are they so crucial for our body functions? And perhaps most importantly, do we need to add more electrolytes to our diets through supplements or sports drinks?
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are salts and minerals, like sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. They’re found in our blood, and they help to conduct electrical impulses in the body.1 They play an essential role in the nervous system, keeping you hydrated, contracting muscles, and regulating the pH system.2
We usually get all the electrolytes we need from maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. However, there can be times when we have an electrolyte imbalance in the blood.3
What do electrolytes do?
Electrolytes are important. They’re vital for your body to function correctly, and they help with a wide range of processes.
These may include:
- Transmitting nerve signals
- Helping blood to clot
- Helping muscle contraction
- Building new tissue
- Regulating fluid levels
- Keeping your blood pH in a normal range4
What is an electrolyte imbalance?
While we usually get enough electrolytes by eating well and drinking enough fluids, there can be times when electrolytes become imbalanced. This could be due to dehydration, a poor diet, certain health conditions, and exercising intensely without hydration afterwards.5
An electrolyte imbalance can have a range of different symptoms, and these can be different from person to person. It also depends on what type of electrolyte imbalance you are experiencing, as well as how severe the imbalance is.6
Some symptoms of an electrolyte balance may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Change in heartbeat
- Muscle spasms
- Blood pressure changes
If you’re concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, it’s essential to talk to your doctor or visit your local emergency service. A medical professional will be able to conduct an electrolyte test to find out the cause of your symptoms and treat it accordingly.8
Dietary sources of electrolytes
Eating a healthy and balanced diet should give you all the electrolytes you need for day-to-day activities. However, there may be times when you want to eat high-electrolyte foods to replenish what you might have lost during intense exercise, for example.
Some dietary sources for electrolytes may include:
- Fruit, like bananas, oranges, and melons9
- Leafy greens, like spinach and kale10
- Dairy products, like milk or yoghurt11
- Proteins, like white meat, shellfish, and beans12
It’s also possible to add electrolytes to your diet through supplements, which may be beneficial during intense or prolonged exercise. Electrolyte supplements are often available as sports drinks, but can also be taken as powders, capsules or tablets.13
Remember, though. You may not need to supplement your electrolytes if you’re eating well and drinking enough water. Always speak to your doctor if you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing.
Last updated: 1 April 2021