This article was originally written for my clinic in an effort to better explain true dehydration and what electrolytes are all about.
I almost always use electrolytes as part of the treatment protocol when a client has nonspecific and seemingly goofy symptoms. It’s a MUST with any sort of muscle spasms, cramps, charlie horses but also used with weird presentation stuff such as twitches and nervy sensations.
I also use it when a patient has multiple complaints that just seem unrelated – “Hey Doc my leg, toe, knee, elbow and back all hurt.”
Maybe your last couple workouts have tanked or you just feel “off.” This stinks, and this inconvenience is keeping you from your goals!
It could be you have an ELECTROLYTE issue. OK – let’s get real here – you do.
Professionally, I’m known for muscle and joint stuff but in any body condition there are 5 main components – nutrition is one of them. It’s real. Most things in life have at least 3 of the 5 components happening at the same time. It’s no biggie, it’s not like your falling apart, there are just a few things happening simultaneously. You can easily have a nutritional component as well as muscle and joint stuff. It’s not either/or – it’s all the above. You need ELECTROLYTES – it’s a simple fix.
But, like life, sometimes simplicity still takes a little explanation….so please, read on and learn.
Basically speaking – electrolytes are the vitamins and minerals that tell the muscles how much to contract or relax – they help control the proper tension, so a depletion in one or multiple electrolytes cause weird symptoms. Usually muscle spasms, Charlie horses or weaknesses in athletes but can manifest different ways. Electrolytes are also neurotransmitters, a huge 50 cent word that means it connects your body. Basically, they run the information highway system of the body.
BUT – “I drink a ton of water!”
Dehydration is always thought of as too little water but should more accurately be thought of as the ratio between water and electrolytes. Too much water with no electrolyte replenishing can mess you up …the ratio is off. You sweat more than water, you need to put back in more than water. The most common electrolyte combo lost during exercise is sodium and chloride (salt). That’s why your sweat is salty. This is why the majority of products designed to replace electrolytes are high in salt. great idea in the 1960’s when Gatorade was invented. – The problem in the US is that we get plenty of salt and I personally feel electrolyte replenishers for most US athletes should be lower in salt.
BUT “I take a magnesium pill or eat a banana”
My personal observation and what is being used most often, is that replenisher drinks do better when all the electrolytes are put back into the system at one time – think of it as topping off the levels. One mineral by itself (think “eat a banana” for low potassium) seems not to work as well or works slower than all at once, such as potassium with the host of all the others.
- Sodium – Choride (together form typical table salt)
- Magnesium – Potassium and Calcium are the macro essential electrolytes
- Selenium – Zinc and Phosphorus the micro essential ones
Again, my professional opinion: every athlete should do a replenisher round of electrolytes for 2 weeks to a month a few times a year (daily dose.)
Athletes doing a HUGE amount of work may need it much more frequently. Personally, I use them pretty much every week day and supplement higher levels with sporting events.
BUT -“I drink Gatorade”
The other factor to watch is that some of the main combos (magnesium and potassium) are NOT stable very long in water – that’s why a good full spectrum replenisher used as a therapeutic dose and supplement should be in powder form and not on the shelf in a bottle like GATORADE. I have looked at hundreds of combos of electrolytes and have formed my own opinion on a favorite brand. It contains all the electrolytes, is low in salt and is in a powder or pill (not pre-mixed.) Taste is an important factor for each individual. You can make your own electrolyte replenisher easily at home and cheaply (YouTube) and pickle juice in a pinch is a great easily accessible replenisher although it is really high in salt.
Gatorade, PowerAde and the ones like that are great during activity if you’re OK with the sugars but they are not the therapeutic dose stuff you use to treat problems.
Hopefully this makes a lot of sense. You can have your electrolytes tested with blood work but usually you will have symptoms and weird complaints while at a subclinical level, meaning you won’t find anything on blood work. At any rate, a container of this stuff costs much less than the test so I usually just tell people to try it and see if it helps.
There are a lot of us out there that need electrolytes and your typical athlete; even on supplements is usually not getting enough of these key elements in their diet. Find a brand or two that works for you, change it up every few months so it’s different sources and different levels of ingredients and improve your body!