What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are salts and minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium that are essential for maintaining hydration and regulating key bodily functions. Many electrolytes can be found in the ingredients lists in their uncharged form, for instance sodium chloride and potassium chloride. In the body, however, electrolytes break down into charged ions and are then utilized in a number of critical pathways.
Why Are Electrolytes Important?
Electrolytes help regulate a host of tasks such as maintaining blood pH. They also play a role in transmitting the impulses that result in nerve and muscle function. Because certain electrolytes, such as calcium, are critical to muscle contraction, running low on electrolytes can contribute to bouts of muscle cramping.
During exercise, electrolytes are lost primarily through sweat. The electrolyte which is lost the most is sodium. If sodium levels dip too low, the result can be confusion, vomiting, headaches, and even seizures. Replacing lost electrolytes ensures peak performance.
What’s the Best Way to Replenish Lost Electrolytes?
If you drink too much water without balancing out your electrolytes, you can put yourself at risk for overhydration. This is a rare, but potentially life-threatening condition in which electrolytes get diluted out and the body effectively begins to shut down. Replenishing water lost during exercise is vital, but replacing lost electrolytes is equally as important.
The best way to do this is with a sports drink that has been specially designed to meet an athlete’s needs. When choosing a sports drink for this purpose, the most important thing to look for is the amount of sodium contained per serving. As mentioned, you lose significantly more salt than any other electrolyte during exercise. You should therefore be looking for a sports drink that has 400 to 1,100 mg of sodium per liter.
There are three kinds of sports drinks available. Isotonic and hypotonic drinks are ideal choices during a ride because the electrolytes and carbohydrates contained are absorbed quickly by the body. Hypertonic drinks are absorbed more slowly, making them good alternatives several hours before a ride.
There are a number of sports drinks on the market, most of which have comparable levels of salts and minerals. Which one you ultimately choose will most likely be a matter of taste and personal preference. The key is to check the label carefully before making a decision to make sure that your sports drink of choice is doing the job of keeping your body hydrated and replenished.
If you find that you are cramping often and are unable to fix it then it may be time to seek alternative solutions. I have a high sweat rate, which means I am unable to drink enough sports drink to fully replenish all of my lost electrolytes which in turn makes me cramp. I take these salt tablets which has really changed how much longer I can ride without cramping, especially during hot days.