Remember that time that you finished a long run, proud that you'd finally remembered to stop for water and gels, only to feel just as exhausted as when you'd suffered through without any nutrition at all? Or that time you finished a 10k, chugged a bunch of water at the finish line, urinated plenty, but still felt thirsty for the rest of the day?
Most people know that hydration is important, but up to 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Many people have trained themselves to reach for their water bottle on a regular basis, but they don't know water alone isn't enough!
Even if you're certain to drink your 64+ ounces of fluids per day, downing 8 glasses doesn't necessarily mean that you're truly hydrated. Unless your body is getting sufficient levels of electrolytes with your fluids, drinking more water may actually dehydrate you further. Even in small doses, too much water can have a negative impact on your body and state of hydration by diluting your blood, leaching existing electrolytes from your system, and in extreme cases can cause hyponatremia (which can be fatal).
So why are electrolytes so important?
Electrolytes are essential to fluid and nutrient absorption and play a key role in hydration, sports performance, and health. Your body naturally loses these particles along with fluid through sweat, breath, and urine, making it incredibly important to replenish before, during, and after exercise. Without electrolytes, the water you drink can't be properly absorbed and will make its way through your system quickly and without benefit to your body.
The four main electrolytes that play vital roles in hydration and exercise performance are: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Sodium and potassium are needed at greater quantity, due to their important roles in fluid retention and preventing muscle cramping. Magnesium and calcium complete the electrolyte profile by aiding in muscle contractions and movement.
How exactly do they help?
Proper hydration has benefits beyond minimizing muscle cramps, maximizing energy, and helping with an afternoon slump. When fluids and electrolytes are consumed regularly and proper hydration is achieved athletes may notice additional benefits such as a more level heart rate and lower perceived exertion during strenuous exercise, less muscle soreness and fatigue, quicker recovery times, and increased mental acuity.
Be sure to consume fluids with a balanced electrolyte profile for better hydration, better performance, and a healthier body!