So getting enough fluids is important but no conversation about hydration could be complete without the mention of electrolytes.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals contained in the body which are essential to its function. When you sweat, electrolytes are important for maintaining an optimal fluid balance both inside and around cells. Electrolytes help your muscles to contract and relax and allow messages to travel efficiently from your nervous system to different parts of the body. As the heart is also a muscle, electrolytes are important for the regulation of it’s rhythm. Common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Functions of different electrolytes
When we sweat, sodium is lost in greater volume than other electrolytes. That is why sweat tastes salty. As well as keeping the body’s water balance in check, sodium activates the thirst response and controls muscle contractions, preventing cramping. Sodium also affects the function of other electrolytes and helps to moderate blood pressure.
Potassium works with sodium in the body to prevent and reduce muscle cramps. It also promotes the metabolism of proteins and fats and helps the muscles to absorb fuel, helping to prevent muscle fatigue.
The body contains a higher quantity of calcium that of any other mineral. Calcium is important for maintaining the skeletal system. It also plays an important function in the clotting of blood and the communication of cells in the body and brain. Essential in muscle contractions, calcium also affects the body’s absorption of other nutrients.
Magnesium works with calcium to promote proper muscle function by promoting muscle relaxation. Magnesium is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats as well as the production of proteins. Additionally, this mineral participates in energy production and contributes to the body’s immune system.
It is important to replace electrolytes when you are exercising, especially when practicing hot yoga as it makes you sweat like crazy. Electrolytes are also contained in re-hydration sachets designed for people suffering from diarrhea. Exercise supplements such as Emergen C sachets, Nuun tablets and other electrolyte replacement powders can be added to drinks and consumed before a Bikram class to boost electrolyte levels. These are great when you are in a hurry or practicing a great deal, but you can also keep your electrolyte levels up naturally by eating the right foods.
Natural sources of electrolytes
Yogurt and black eyed peas are a good source of calcium. Potassium is found in a many different foods such as red meat, fish, chicken, broccoli, avocados, tomatoes, kiwis and bananas. Good sources of magnesium include nuts, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and pumpkin seeds. Sodium is of course contained in good old salt, which is a combination of both sodium and chloride. However, instead of throwing table salt over your dinner, try foods rich with sodium like seaweed, tomatoes, celery, marmite, soy sauce and olives. A great post work-out snack is a sushi avocado roll with soy sauce!
It’s also remember that too much salt is bad for you and many of us already have a high level of salt in our diets. Once again, it’s all about the balance and a balance of all electrolytes is needed to meet your body’s hydration requirements. For more information on recommended daily intake of the electrolytes mentioned about see Article (4) below.
Coconut water is a rich source of electrolytes, containing magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium, all in one carton. Bikram Yogis swear by it as a convenient one stop shop to hydrate you for class which is also totally natural.