Electrolytes 101

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

We are always told to drink more water. But as fit, active people we can’t rely on water alone — even during the colder months. When we’re sweating, we lose electrolytes that must be replaced, or we risk becoming dehydrated. To help avoid the effects of dehydration (i.e. cramping, low energy, heat exhaustion), learn the what, when and how of electrolytes.

Stock up on electrolyte supplements today

What are electrolytes?

Simply put, electrolytes are minerals in your body that carry an electric charge (hence their name). These minerals include sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, magnesium and phosphorous. Your electrolyte levels greatly affect the amount of water you retain, the acidity of your blood, muscle function and other processes important to maintaining your healthy body.

What are good sources of electrolytes?

Reach for foods rich in any of the minerals listed above. Many whole foods ““ that you probably already eat ““ contain high amounts of these minerals. Here are a few examples of whole food sources:

Sodium: Anything salty, from potato chips to chicken noodle soup

Potassium: Bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach and beans

Calcium: Yogurt, milk and soy products

Magnesium: Leafy greens, whole grains and peanut butter

On race day, Amy and I like salt capsules, which feature an electrolyte complex with added antioxidants to help support exercise-induced free radical damage. These are easy on the stomach and easy to take while biking or running. Other electrolyte supplements include gels, gel blocks and powder mixes. For allergy-free, plant-based nutrients, Vega’s Sport Electrolyte Hydrator mix is a natural choice for sensitive stomachs.

When do I need electrolytes?

Any form of exercise that lasts longer than 1 hour is when you should be replenishing with electrolytes. Depending on your sweat rate (yes, that’s a real thing), you may need to supplement more or less. In athlete-speak, you lose about 1,000-2,000 mg of sodium per 2 hours of moderate to intense exercise.

How much is too much?

You can’t really consume too many electrolytes. You can, however, consume too many calories. Many electrolyte products are formulated with extra carbohydrates from sugar. These fuel systems are best for long training days and endurance events when you need to be taking in more calories from carbs.

On an average day, Amy and I drink a couple bottles (24 oz) of water with one NUUN electrolyte tab in each. When you consider other foods and drinks you have throughout the day, adding electrolytes to your water bottle can help offset the diuretic effects of several cups of coffee and breaks up the monotony of drinking plain water.

And don’t be fooled by the colder winter months. You may not be sweating as much in the cold, but your body still craves electrolyte replenishment during a long, intense workout.

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at ask.the.triathletes@gmail.com. “˜Like’ them on  Facebook  or follow on Twitter: Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and Amy @AmyCMarsh.