Electrolytes are minerals in our body, like sodium, magnesium, and potassium, that help with basic body functions and communication between cells in the body. Many processes in the body, in the brain, nervous system, and muscles, require electrical signals for communication. This is important for athletes to understand, especially endurance athletes.
I believe I have stated in previous blog posts that when you are training for more than one hour and sweating is when you need to start thinking about electrolyte replacement. When you are training for less than an hour, water will do fine to keep you hydrated. However, sweat rates are very different person to person.
Why do we care about electrolytes? What do they actually do for athletic performance?
1. Loss of electrolytes can cause cramping while playing your sport or racing. Some athletes report that severe muscle cramps have benched them on competition day. Salt replacement and electrolyte replacement have been show to help prevent cramping for some individuals.
2. Replenishing lost fluid and electrolytes during exercise helps to maintain plasma volume. When blood plasma volume is well maintained, one can avoid decreased performance output. Essentially, staying hydrated keeps your body working at it full potential.
3. Hyponatremia, or low salt concentrations in the body, can also be a concern for those athletes drinking too much water. If someone is drinking water and not replacing electrolytes like sodium it can not only hurt performance but also can lead to seizures and coma if untreated.
4. For maintaining hydration during exercise, particularly vigorous high-intensity exercise, recommendations are to consume fluids (about 5 to 7 ml/kg) and a sodium-containing snack at least 4 hours before.
5. During exercise, individuals require 200 to 800 ml/hour of liquid that should contain 20 to 30 mEq/l of sodium.