What Are Electrolytes and Why Are They so Good for You?


Jeff Gapinski

Woman holding a reusable water bottle and yoga mat

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word electrolytes is probably your favorite Gatorade flavor. There might also be a vague memory of a particularly grueling workout or the last time happy hour turned into closing time. And that makes sense because electrolyte-rich beverages do help when you lose fluids, but they’re also vital to keeping your body running on a daily basis. So let’s talk about what electrolytes are, why they’re good for you, and where to get them.

What are electrolytes?

At their simplest, electrolytes are essential minerals like sodium, calcium, and potassium that produce an electrical charge when you consume them. These electric currents power your body’s metabolic processes. They are the positive or negative ions that “regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue,” according to Medical News Today.

You’ve most likely heard of them in conversation about hydration, fluid loss, and improving the body’s performance during exercise. While it is important to monitor electrolyte levels during excessive physical exertion or while battling an illness that leads to dehydration, they’re actually more commonly applicable to everyday wellbeing and performance that happens off the track or field.

Why are electrolytes good for you?

Electrolytes are the fuel your body needs to complete its vital daily functions. For example, for proper muscle contraction, your body needs calcium. And for your brain to send electrical signals to cells throughout the body such as the ones that tell each cell the amount of water it should hold, your body needs sodium. To regulate your internal pH levels, your body needs the right balance of all of these electrolytes. 

The electric current produced when these essential minerals dissolve literally keeps you moving and feeling good. Without them, you’re in danger of symptoms like fatigue, headache, nausea, low blood pressure, and muscle cramps. Greater imbalances can even lead to more serious health concerns like nervous system disorders. The good news is that many electrolytes are naturally occurring in foods you already eat, and you can easily supplement your existing diet by consuming drinks with electrolytes.

Where do electrolytes come from?

Fueling your body with electrolytes all starts with a well-rounded diet. Because minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium are found in many healthy snacks, solid foods are just as plentiful a source as liquids. For example, avocados, bananas, and sweet potatoes are all high in potassium, and magnesium can be found in seeds and nuts. 

While you may think of sports drinks as healthy electrolyte beverages, Cedars-Sinai clinical dietitian Christina Fasulo cautions, “[A] lot of sports drinks have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes to really help your body replenish the electrolytes it needs. After a workout, if you sweat heavily and you see a white chalk on your clothing, then you’re likely losing a lot of salt. In those instances, or if you’re exercising in a humid, hot area, or working out for an extended length of time, then you might benefit from an electrolyte-replacement drink. If you’re doing an easy-to-moderate exercise for an hour, then you’re fine drinking water.”

If you meet the above criteria and you’re looking to add more electrolyte drinks to your diet, beverages like coconut water, milk, and electrolyte-infused water are full of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

What have we learned?

If you’ve been following our blog, we’re not telling you anything you don’t know when we remind you that the most important things you can do each day are to eat nutritious, whole foods and stay hydrated. You may even remember that one study showed that proper hydration could lead to a 14% increase in productivity. 

Proper nutrition and the role of electrolytes isn’t just about personal records at the gym, though. Without the proper balance of these minerals, you won’t be your best at home or the office either. So keep an eye on the warning signs we mentioned above, don’t be shy about visiting the office water dispenser, and mix in some of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that will help you feel good all day.

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Jeff Gapinski

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