Electrolytes conduct electricity in nature and in the human body. Our bodies need these ions in order to function properly. The nervous system, brain and other parts of the body communicate via these electrical signals.
If your doctor suspects that you are struggling with an electrolyte imbalance, he or she will run blood tests for sodium, potassium and other chemicals to determine if your levels are within a normal range. For example, the body releases excess sodium in the urine, so tests can show if you suffer from an electrolyte imbalance — too much or too little sodium.
Effects of Electrolyte Imbalance
If you do not have enough electrolytes in your system, you might suffer from the following symptoms:
- Poor running/athletic performance
- Painful muscle contractions or general weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling restless or edgy
- Feeling sluggish and overtired and
At the most serious levels, you can struggle with a life-threatening condition, hyponatremia, when sodium levels drop to dangerous lows.
This risk increases when you run for longer than an hour, especially if the temperatures are high or if you sweat profusely. The amount of sweat depends on several factors, including clothing, genetics, humidity, the intensity of the run and more.
Products to Balance Electrolytes
One study showed that during a half-Ironman, athletes could improve their performance by 8 percent, simply by ingesting table salt and other electrolytes. The salt provided an additional benefit of increasing thirst, which lead to increased fluid consumption and reduced the risk of dehydration.
As a child or teen, you might have heard adults encourage you to drink Gatorade or a similar drink after running or playing hard in order to properly balance your energy levels and to keep you hydrated. However, those drinks are likely high in sugar and might not be the best option for maintaining your electrolyte balance. Instead, consider electrolyte tablets, powders, gels and salt pills, usually available at health food stores or a natural grocery store. You can even replenish electrolytes with common foods, such as pretzels, salted popcorn, potato chips, nuts or pepperoni pizza.
You might also opt to make your own products, known as electrolyte gels and by other names, at home. These vegan products are comprised of organic fruit juices, natural sugar, honey, sea salt, lemon juice and liquid fruit pectin. You can create your own flavors with a minimal amount of work, and they will remain edible if refrigerated for up to a month.
With the help of a candy thermometer — found at fairly inexpensive prices — you can also make your own glucose syrup at home using just four easy-to-obtain ingredients — water, natural cane sugar, lemon juice and sea salt. The syrup keeps at room temperature for up to three months.
Keep your body operating at peak performance by ensuring that you maintain safe electrolyte levels. If necessary, add products or supplements to your diet so that your health doesn’t suffer.