How to Get Electrolytes Naturally Into Your Diet: A Complete Guide
Electrolytes are crucial for running performance and recovery and many runners rely on sports drinks to get them. With that may come added sugar that most runners rather forgo.
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy ways to get electrolytes naturally into your diet that don’t involve sugary sports drinks.
In this article, we are going to break down what are electrolytes, why we need them, and how best to get them in the foods we eat.
So, let’s get started!
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes have “electro” in it because they are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. Electrolytes can be found in your blood, urine, tissues, and other body fluids.
What do electrolytes do?
Electrolytes have lots of very important roles. Electrolytes help with
- nerve signaling
- muscle contractions
- bone health
- pH level balance
- water balance in your body
- the elimination waste from your cells
- and make sure your nerves, muscles, heart, and brain all work the right way
What are the main electrolytes?
The main three electrolytes are sodium, potassium, and chloride. Magnesium, calcium, and phosphate are also important electrolytes.
Here are the roles these main electrolytes play in our bodies:
Sodium, or salt, helps the body hold on to water, keeping you hydrated for a longer period of time. This is obviously important for runners as dehydration can cause muscle cramping and hurt performance.
Sodium is lost in sweat.
Chloride is a mineral that is needed to maintain fluid balance, blood volume, blood pressure, and body fluid pH levels. Chloride is also lost in sweat.
Potassium is important to blood pressure regulation, cell and heart function, bone loss production, warding off kidney stones, and plays a starring role in muscle contraction.
Magnesium helps maintain nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, steadies the heartbeat, keeps bones strong, and adjusts blood sugar levels.
Calcium is important for strong bones along with helping muscles move, nerve signaling between the brain and body, the transport of blood vessels, and the release of hormones to affect bodily functions.
Phosphate helps build and repair bones and teeth, nerve function, and muscle contraction.
Why do runners need electrolytes?
Electrolytes are especially important for runners because they help regulate your body’s water balance when you run. The electrolyte levels allow your muscles to retrain the right amount of water so they can operate properly.
What electrolytes do runners need?
Sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are the four major electrolytes that maintain the body’s fluid balance.
How do we lose electrolytes?
We lose electrolytes through our sweat and urine.
What is the healthiest way to get electrolytes?
Eating a healthy diet rich in electrolytes is the best way to maintain or replenish your electrolytes. The best foods to have a healthy balance of electrolytes include dairy, bananas, vegetables, coconut water, watermelon, grains, and avocados.
Should I eat or drink electrolytes before a run?
Yes! Drink some water with electrolytes, a low sugar electrolyte drink or eat a snack with electrolytes like a whole grain bagel with peanut butter about an hour before your run. This will help your body prepare for exercise by getting your heart pumping and blood move.
Be sure to take electrolytes on the run in your gels or drink and refuel with it when you get home.
What are the symptoms of low electrolytes?
When you have low electrolytes you may have muscle cramping; feel fatigue, headache, or nausea; have blood pressure changes or low energy; vomiting and diarrhea; and simply not feel well.
Can I only get electrolytes in sports drinks?
Sports drinks are a quick way to get electrolytes but they have a lot of added sugars and dyes which make them not the healthiest option for athletes.
After intense exercise for an hour or more, having a sports drink is a common option to replace the electrolytes you have lost quickly. But you can also eat nutritious foods to replenish your levels.
There are also some electrolyte drink options that are low on added sugars and food colorings.
What drink is high in electrolytes?
Some of the electrolyte drinks that are high on electrolytes and low on added sugars and dyes include Nuun tablets, Propel, Essentia, and even Pedialyte.
What is the best way to replenish electrolytes?
The best way to replenish electrolytes though will always be to eat a healthy diet that includes foods that have electrolytes. Thankfully, electrolytes are present in most of the foods we eat!
Also, drink water. Don’t take diuretics unless directed by a doctor. And, use salt but not too much.
How long does it take to replenish electrolytes?
If you are low on electrolytes, rest and rehydrate with an electrolyte drink, coconut water, and fruit juice, and/or eat bananas, avocados, and dairy. This is the fastest way to replenish your electrolyte levels.
It typically takes about 36 hours to replenish your electrolyte levels. But you will start to feel better within a few hours.
Most people need about 1,600 to 2,000 milligrams of electrolytes a day, but more if you are running and sweating.
How to Get Electrolytes Naturally
You can get electrolytes naturally through foods that contain them.
Here are foods that contain specific electrolytes for runners to include in their diets!
Foods high in Magnesium:
- Nuts like almonds or cashews
- Cereal like shredded wheat
- Meat like chicken or beef
- White rice
- Fish like halibut
- Peanut butter
- Dark chocolate
- Fruit juice
Foods high in sodium:
- Deli meats
- Canned beans
- Potato Chips
- Processed Cheese
- Tomato sauce or tomato soup
- Canned vegetables
- Table salt
- Prepackaged foods
- Coconut water
Foods high in chloride:
- Rye crackers or bread
- Lettuce and leafy greens
- Canned vegetables
- Tomatoes including tomato soup or sauce
Foods high in potassium:
- Fruit such as bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, apricots, or grapefruit
- Dried fruits such as apricots, prunes, raisins, or dates
- Cooked spinach
- Cooked broccoli
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens
- Coconut water
- Fruit juice
Foods high in calcium:
- Chocolate milk
- Calcium-fortified beverages such as almond and soy milk
- Dark-green leafy vegetables
- Dried peas and beans
- Fish with bones
- Calcium-fortified juices and cereal
- Latte or coffee with cream or milk
Foods high in phosphate:
- Fish like salmon or tuna
- Poultry like chicken
- Soy, nuts, and legumes
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fruit juice
Electrolytes are easy to include in your daily diet. But if you’re running and sweating a lot, you may need to supplement with an electrolyte drink!
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