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What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are naturally occurring salts found in the body that play vital roles in various functions. These salts are essential for fluid regulation, neural firing, and maintaining electrical balance. The most important electrolytes are sodium (Na), Potassium (K), Chloride (Cl), Magnesium (M), and Calcium (Ca). 

Should I Take an Electrolyte Supplement?

You unlikely need to be taking electrolytes, which is good news! That means one less thing to buy and keep in your routine. For healthy people without pre-existing health conditions, the rule of thumb is to consider taking electrolytes if:

  1. You will be exercising & sweating hard for over 60 minutes.

  2. You will be exercising in the sun/ excessive heat. 

Most gym sessions don’t count as “sweating hard”. Think of playing a soccer game on a sunny day or taking a 90-minute hot- yoga class. So unless you’re an athlete competing on a warm day or you’re going extreme in the gym with 90-minute high-intensity workouts, you don’t need extra electrolytes. A typical diet contains plenty of salts to restore electrolyte balance within your body. 

 If you have a pre-existing health condition like diabetes, kidney disease, dehydration, etc. then you may consider taking electrolytes. Ask your doctor.

Then Why the Hype?

You may have heard tons of information online about different electrolyte supplements. Many companies push that you need to “restore your fluid balance” or that electrolytes will help you achieve optimal performance. 

The truth is that electrolyte supplements are extremely cheap to make and they can sell for over $1.00 per serving, creating a substantial profit margin. Electrolytes can also be used to market a sugary, high-calorie drink into a health- foods product. If you’re reading this article you likely care about your well-being, and beverage companies use that same desire to sell you junk food. 

Drinking plain water is probably all you need. Drinking during your workout will keep you feeling fresh.

How to Take Electrolytes

If you plan to be sweating for over an hour (hiking, skiing, intramural sports, hot yoga class, etc.) or will be exercising in excessive heat/ sun, then hydrating beforehand is crucial. A serving of electrolytes should be taken with at least half a liter (16oz) of water a full hour before exercising. Hydrating by drinking plain water during the workout will also be beneficial. 

Which Electrolytes to Take?

Avoid taking electrolytes in the form of bottled sports drinks. Brands like Gatorade, Liquid IV,  Powerade, Electrolit, and Pedialyte all have excess added sugars. Some good products like LMNT or Nuun avoid sugars and are a good choice. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Most people get enough electrolytes through their food intake, so additional supplementation is unnecessary. 

  2. Make sure to hydrate with plain water before exercising and you will not need to take any electrolytes. 

  3. Consider taking electrolytes if you will be sweating hard for over an hour or will be working out in sweltering conditions. 

  4. Be aware of the sugar content in electrolyte products. 


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