If you’re in training for any endurance event, you know that hydration and electrolyte replacement is key for maximum performance. But before you reach for that sports drink or gel-like substance that promises to replenish everything you are sweating out, its important to know what your body is actually losing and what those drinks contain.
Electrolytes are minerals that work with the water in your body to regulate fluid balance, muscle movement and nerve functions. When you sweat from endurance exercise, you are also losing electrolytes because they move within body water. If you’re exercising vigorously for more than an hour, especially outside in the heat, you will be losing sodium and chloride in your sweat. While drinking water helps to rehydrate, not replenishing lost electrolytes will make it more difficult to exercise and may pose a serious health risk.
A common misconception is that muscle cramping is caused from a loss of potassium during exercise, but really that is related to lost sodium! Potassium is excreted very little during exercise, but still plays an important role in muscle functions and needs to be consumed at recommended amounts from sources like milk, beans, spinach, and coconut water.
Remember, replacing electrolytes is important only after hours of extended activity, so put the Gatorade down during your typical gym routine! Sports drinks can have as much sugar as a soda, undoing all of the work that you are doing in your hour-long workout. A normal meal should be fine to replace lost minerals in your sweat.
To combat lost electrolytes, consume plenty of water with around 200-350 mg of sodium per hour of exercise. This will keep you performing at your best, along with some carbohydrate replacement after 1.5-2 hours of exercise. Pack some pickles as a snack, drink a 1:1 diluted sports drink, or make your own with these recipes: