Feeling parched? It may be due to more than just being dehydrated. Your body may actually be craving something called electrolytes. Here’s what they can do for you, and why you may want to try it (or avoid it) based on your own athletic needs.
What Are Electrolytes and What Do They Do?
Electrolytes are chemicals in your food and water that help to conduct electricity. Because your body's cells communicate through little electric impulses, electrolytes are partially responsible for important functions like muscle repair, muscle contractions during exercise, and keeping your body well-hydrated.
Common electrolytes in your food and water include:
When you exercise, electrolytes help your body respond quickly and efficiently. For example, your muscles need potassium, sodium and calcium to contract when you're lifting weights. If you don't have enough of these electrolytes, your muscle strength lags and you may feel fatigued faster.
What Are Symptoms That You Don’t Have Enough Electrolytes?
If your body is running low on electrolytes in the gym, you may notice things like:
- Uncontrolled muscle twitching
- Muscle cramps
- Early fatigue or muscle weakness
Should You Take Electrolyte Supplements?
Endurance athletes are likely the core demographic who can benefit from electrolyte supplements the most.
Because endurance athletes drink so much fluids over a prolonged period of time (such as during a triathlon or a long-distance race) and often aren't replenishing their system with food, all those liquids can flush your body of its stored electrolytes and lead to overhydration and electrolyte depletion.
For most other fitness enthusiasts and gym goers, you may not see very many benefits to electrolytes unless you:
- Eat a very poor diet (fruits and veggies are a high source of natural electrolytes)
- Don’t drink enough water when you’re exercising
- Are taking certain medications, such as diuretics, that cause your body to flush out a lot of fluids
If you think you may benefit from electrolyte supplements, try a sports drink or a powder that you can add to your own water bottle. Aim to sip 20 ounces of electrolyte-enhanced fluids for every pound of body weight you lose through sweat, and maintain a rhythm of drinking 4 cups of fluids per hour while working out.