Not Just for Athletes: Why You Need to Watch Your Electrolyte Levels

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In 1965, the assistant coach of the Florida Gators met with a team of scientists from the University of Florida to figure out why players’ performance was negatively affected by the heat. They found that players lose too many electrolytes through their sweat when on the field. As a remedy, the scientists created a drink that quenched the players’ thirst and replaced their lost electrolytes instantly.

That was the birth story of Gatorade.

The globally-renowned sports drink has become a mainstay in sporting events and endorsed by top athletes around the world. Now, Gatorade is distributed in over 80 countries, and it commands 46 percent of the sports drink market. By 2015, 50 years since the drink’s invention, the group behind it had received over $1 billion in royalties.

Electrolytes have, since then, been a mainstay in sports drinks advertising. Even people who do not really engage in sports, but exercise regularly or do manual labor, are aware of the importance of electrolytes in the body.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes naturally occur in the body, and they are necessary for a number of daily physiological functions. Electrolytes are responsible for keeping the pH of your blood within the normal range, enabling muscle contraction, building new tissue, helping blood clotting, regulating levels of fluids within the body, removing wastes, and transmitting nerve signals.

Therefore, you will likely feel it when your body does not have enough electrolytes. You will feel weak and unable to do regular tasks. You may also experience shortness of breath, swelling or bloating, rapid or irregular heartbeat, confusion, irritability, numbness or tingling, twitching and spasms, fever, or seizure.

It is dangerous to allow your body to expend too many electrolytes without replacing them. There are different ways you can lose electrolytes throughout the day. Intense physical activity, especially under the heat, will make you sweat more, your body losing electrolytes. Certain health conditions could also decrease the levels of electrolytes in your body, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Replacing Lost Electrolytes

woman drinking from a cup

However, replenishing your body’s supply of electrolytes is easy. Athletes need to drink it straight from the bottle in the form of a sports drink. Getting electrolytes through intravenous (IV) hydration therapy is also a quick option without the refined sugar that comes with bottled beverages.

On the other hand, regular people who do not engage in intense physical activities can get their daily dose of electrolytes through a balanced diet.

You can eat certain foods that support hydration and generate energy for your day-to-day tasks. Food that has electrolytes includes avocados, broccoli, almonds, beans, soybeans, spinach, kale, potatoes, peanuts, tofu, watermelon, oranges, strawberries, bananas, tomatoes, milk, yogurt, fish, chicken, and canned goods.

When Loss of Electrolytes Is More Serious

Sometimes, diet is not enough. Some people have too high or too low levels of electrolytes in their bodies, causing an imbalance. An electrolyte imbalance is a cause for concern. It typically presents itself through symptoms such as muscle cramps, muscle spasms or twitching, muscle weakness, numbness, headaches, extreme thirst, and others. Symptoms may also appear depending on which electrolyte is too high or low. For example, over time, not having enough calcium and electrolytes may lead to osteoporosis, especially among older adults.

Levels of electrolytes become imbalanced for several reasons. A person who is dehydrated because of excessive sweating and prolonged vomiting, and diarrhea due to an underlying health condition may lose too many electrolytes. Those who have chronic kidney disease, on the other hand, may have too many electrolytes, particularly potassium, which can lead to hyperkalemia.

People who have eating disorders such as bulimia are at risk of getting electrolyte imbalance, and so do those who have type-1 diabetes.

There are also medications that can cause electrolyte imbalance. Diuretics, laxatives, beta-blockers, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy drugs are some that are known to affect levels of electrolytes within the body.

Those who have underlying health conditions and take medications should speak to their doctors about their experience. The medical professional can provide advice on how to better keep your electrolytes balanced or present another treatment option that will not cause unpleasant side effects that influence electrolytes in your body.

Final Thoughts

Electrolytes are integral to a person’s overall well-being. It is directly involved in many processes that occur within the body. Although it is mostly mentioned and promoted to athletes through sports drinks, regular people need to maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes, too. Instead of drinking sugary sports drinks, they can get the right dose of electrolytes through eating a balanced diet every day.

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