There’s a lot of talk around keeping your electrolytes up at the moment, especially after exercise. Including health claims by various drinks. To help you make sense of it all, we discuss what electrolytes are and how our bodies use them.
Finding ways to improve health and fitness through what we eat and drink is now a priority for a lot of people. It’s no easy task though. There’s lots of conflicting views, news, jargon and scientific detail that can make choosing the right products tricky.
One of the words that’s often liberally used in connection with the fast-growing sports drinks sector, is electrolytes. It's also promoted heavily within marketing for sugar-packed energy drinks, many of which also contain lots of caffeine.
We thought it would be useful to focus on 'what are electrolytes?. Also, what are the benefits of buying caffeine-free, plant-based sports drinks packed with electrolytes, which contain carefully limited sugar?
Are electrolytes and minerals the same thing?
The human body uses different minerals for a diverse range of functions that we take for granted. Ensuring that you get a good supply through what you consume, helps your body to grow, develop, repair and stay healthy.
Some of these minerals are classified as ‘electrolytes’. That means they are concerned with the electrical impulses that carry important messages around our body.
Just to be clear, not all minerals are electrolytes and the two names are not interchangeable.
The minerals that come under the title electrolytes include potassium, calcium, sodium, phosphate, and magnesium. Those are names you’re no doubt familiar with, as they serve multiple purposes including calcium's role in building strong bones.
When minerals are electrolytes, what is their task?
These essential minerals are constantly travelling around in your blood, carrying electrical impulses.
Having enough chemicals in your circulation to conduct electrical messages ensures that your nerves and muscles can do their work properly. So, for instance, your hand muscle contracts as you go to pick something up.
These chemical messengers are also helping to balance blood pressure, maintain hydration levels and support tissue regeneration.
That’s quite a list of vital jobs, right? Clearly showing why we need electrolytes to stay healthy and fully active.
What can cause electrolyte levels to fall?
When you exert yourself – at the gym, running, doing sports or some other physical activity - you can quickly deplete the levels of electrolytes in your blood system. Also, as you get hot and your internal water level drops, you can start to have a serious imbalance. You leak some essential minerals through your sweat too.
The same imbalance and deficits happen after illness, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, when you take certain medications or when you’re on holiday in hot countries.
Some acute medical conditions also interfere with the absorption of essential minerals, such as kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
These are all times when enjoying drinks containing minerals is really important.
Of course, anyone who doesn’t have a well-balanced diet can also suffer from low levels of electrolytes. So, all that emphasis on fruit, veg and calcium-rich food needs to be noted.
The NHS offers an electrolyte test if the cause of your imbalance is unknown and the effects are proving serious. Generally, though, it is something you can fix yourself.
The signs and symptoms can be obvious, if your body can’t do the fundamental functions mentioned above, efficiently enough. Which can impact your general health, energy levels and maybe even cause digestive problems.
Best way to boost electrolytes
Replacing electrolytes does not have to involve health supplements or long term changes in your diet. It is possible to buy still and sparkling water with electrolytes and amino acids in.
Keep in mind that choosing many sports and energy drinks to boost your levels risks adding all the unnecessary stuff too.
Rejuvenation water hydration range contain electrolyte-rich water, deliciously flavoured by natural, pure ingredients. Tempting combinations such as apple and mint, and ginger with lime.
These provide you with a vegan option and a low-calorie electrolyte drink. No energy spikes and drops, but a carefully balanced amount of the ingredients your body genuinely needs.
Even professional footballers rely on our delicious waters with electrolytes in. So, why not try them for yourself.