According to Medifit Biologicals electrolytes play a very major role in water balance and thermo-regulation of athletes and increases endurance in sports.
WHAT ARE ELECTROLYTES?
When dissolved in fluid, salts tend to break apart into their component ions, creating an electrically-conductive solution. For example, table salt (NaCl) dissolved in water dissociates into its component positive ion of sodium (Na+) and negative ion of chloride (Cl-). Any fluid that conducts electricity, such as this new saltwater solution, is known as an electrolyte solution: the salt ions of which it’s composed are then commonly referred to as electrolytes.
There are several common electrolytes found in the body, each serving a specific and important role, but most are in some part responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids between the intracellular (inside the cell) and extracellular (outside the cell) environments. This balance is critically important for things like hydration, nerve impulses, muscle function, and pH level.
An electrolyte imbalance, whether too much or too little, can be quite detrimental to your health. Muscle contraction, for example, requires calcium, potassium and sodium; deficiency may result in muscle weakness or severe cramping. Too much sodium, on the other hand, can cause high blood pressure and significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Don’t get too worried about maintaining your electrolytes; luckily, electrolyte levels are mostly determined by food and water consumption so keeping the right balance simply comes down to proper nutrition.
Now let’s take a look at the seven major electrolytes found in the human body to get a better idea of what each does and why it’s important.
7 MAJOR ELECTROLYTES & THEIR FUNCTION
Here’s a closer look at the 7 major electrolytes:
1. Sodium (Na+)
2. Chloride (Cl-)
3. Potassium (K+)
4. Magnesium (Mg++)
5. Calcium (Ca++)
6. Phosphate (HPO4–)
7. Bicarbonate (HCO3-)
maintains fluid balance and necessary for muscle contractions and nerve functions. Found in small amounts in all foods and mostly comes from table salt, and processed foods. Recommended intake 1-2 grams per day.
Chloride is necessary for maintenance of fluid balance in the body. Found in a variety of foods but mostly comes from table salt. Recommended intake 1 gram per day.
Potassium regulates contraction of the heart and helps to maintain fluid balance. Found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, meat, poultry, potatoes, and dairy products. Recommended intake 2-4 grams per day.
Magnesium is necessary for muscle contraction, nerve functions, heart rhythm, bone strength, generation of energy and building protein. Found in nuts, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, and green leafy vegetables. Recommended intake 0.4g per day.
Calcium is necessary for contraction of muscles, for nerve function, blood clotting, division of body cells and for healthy teeth and bones. Found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables and legumes. Recommended intake 1-2 grams per day.
Second to calcium, phosphorus follows as the most abundant mineral in your body, 85% of which is found in your bones as phosphate. The phosphate anion works closely with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, but it is also essential to energy production within cells, necessary for tissue growth and repair, and is a major building block for cell membranes and DNA.
When acids build up through metabolic processes or production of lactic acid in your muscles, the kidneys release this bicarbonate (an alkaline solution) into your system to counteract the increased acidity. If your body is becoming more basic, the kidneys will lessen the amount of bicarbonate to increase acidity. Without this system, rapid changes in pH balance could cause severe problems in the body like damaging sensitive tissue around the central nervous system. This bicarbonate buffer is one of the biggest reason our bodies can maintain homeostasis and function properly.
FLUID INTAKE BEFORE EXERCISE
The period before exercise is a time of between one to four hours before exercise begins. The pre exercise meal normally contains high carbohydrates, moderate protein, be low in fat and must be accompanied by fluid. Athletes should consume 400 – 600 ml of fluid two to three hours before exercising. This amount of fluid will help to ensure the athlete is not dehydrated and will allow enough time for absorption of the fluid and eliminate urine before training or competition commences. Athletes who exercise in the heat should consume a further 250 – 500 ml within two hours of the start of exercise. Athletes who train or perform for a time longer than one hour may choose to take a carbohydrate beverage instead of, or as part of their pre-exercise fluid intake. They often take in 400-600 ml of a carbohydrate beverage two hours before exercising. The concentration of the carbohydrate beverage should not be more than 8% concentration, although some athletes may be able to tolerate concentrations at a higher percentage of carbohydrates. Fifteen to thirty minutes before exercise a further carbohydrate beverage is consumed containing 300-500 ml.
FLUID INTAKE AND REHYDRATION AFTER EXERCISE
Athletes are normally dehydrated following exercise or competition and it is therefore vitally important that they follow a rehydration strategy quickly after exercise so that they don’t embark on the next session or event in a compromised state. Using sodium post training is of benefit because it causes the body to retain fluid and to provide a desire to drink. There is sodium in sports drinks but normally the amount of sodium is relatively small. It is therefore important that athletes slightly salt food after exercise.
A trained athlete has a maximum sweat rate of approximately 2-3 litres per hour so it wouldn’t take long for this athlete to lose 2-3 percent of their body weight. Two litres of sweat equates to a 2 kg loss of body weight. Losing this much fluid during exercise will have an effect on the athletes energy levels and can cause premature fatigue. In order to know how much fluid has been lost during exercise the athlete should weigh themselves pre training and comparing that weight to the post training bodyweight. For every pound of body weight lost during exercise the athlete should take in a minimum of 1 pint per pound of body weight lost. A better guideline to follow is to take in a pint and a half of fluid per pound of body weight lost through exercise. In order that body weight lost through exercise is correctly calculated by the scales the athlete must be fully hydrated prior to exercise. Another method athlete’s use is monitoring the colour of their urine. Going to the toilet frequently and passing large amounts of light coloured urine would mean adequate hydration, but dark coloured concentrated urine may mean that the athlete is dehydrated.
THE BALANCE OF ELECTROLYTES
So there you have it – your all-star lineup of electrolytes. As you can see, each plays a critical role in keeping your body running well, but the key thing to note is that they function in a very specific balance. The reason it is so important to know just what electrolytes do is because most people don’t realize that it’s all in the balance. Disrupting the equilibrium to either toxic or deficient levels can have disastrous effects. Increasing incidence of hypertension and heart disease all over the world can be attributed to the rising occurrences of sodium imbalances.
Fortunately, now that you know exactly what electrolytes are for and how they should be balanced,
the solution is simple – eat a healthy, natural diet!
It seems so easy, but this is vitally important for keeping your own superhighway in tip-top shape. Remember: take care of your body and it will take care of you!
ELECTROLYTES, SWEAT AND HUMIDITY
Ever notice how you seem to seat more when it is humid? Well that is an illusion and one to remember. Sweat is the body’s attempt to eliminate excess heat through evaporative cooling. When it is humid, sweat evaporation is less effective and the sweat just stays on you and drips off. So you feel sweaty.When it is very dry outside (low humidity), the sweat evaporates quickly. People can get into trouble in a dry environment because they think they don’t need to drink because they “are not sweating” but they really are they just don’t feel it. The same can happen on the bike when the wind helps evaporate the sweat quickly. So drink up!