Beyond Water – You Need Electrolytes!
Written by: Joanne Beccarelli
Are you drinking water and more water and then some more water but still not feeling great?
Water is always the first strategy when thinking about hydration, body fluids and replenishment. However, if you have double checked the warning signs for dehydration and are definitely drinking the right amount of water for your body, then the next likely cause is that your electrolytes are out of balance.
While most people are very aware of the need for basic hydration, most never think of overhydration and few aside from intense athletes actively think about electrolytes.
What exactly are electrolytes? Do I get them from sports drinks? Can I get them from food? How do I know if I need them? Aren’t they only for athletes?
Let me break it down for you…
Electrolytes are salts and minerals that can enable the body’s electrical impulses to operate properly. They include sodium, potassium, calcium, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium and chloride.
The right balance of electrolytes is needed for proper muscle contraction, energy and most biochemical reactions in the body. Since electrolyte balance is directly related to fluid levels in the body, it is always changing as the levels of all body fluids, including your blood and urine, change. Therefore, it makes sense that the most common reasons for fluctuating electrolyte balance include:
- Fluid Consumption – Underhydration or overhydration
- Sweating – From athletic exertion, illness, or weather
- Illnesses – High temperatures, vomiting and diarrhea
- Medications – Corticosteroids, Diuretics, Antibiotics, Antifungals and Birth Control Pills
When would I need to replenish electrolytes? Are there warnings signs?
Many situations can create an electrolyte imbalance that needs fixing. A few examples will help to illustrate this. If you work out gently in moderate or cool temps, you probably don’t need to worry a lot about replenishing electrolytes, but you still always need to replenish fluids. However, If you work out harder, sweating profusely, or spend a lot of time in hot weather, then you probably need some electrolyte recovery.
It’s also not just about the athlete. If you work outside in the garden for many hours in the sun and heat, or you spend the day at the beach, you do need to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes. The biggest rule of thumb is how many fluids you are losing. This goes for illnesses too. And let’s not forget less active people or older generations that feel any of the symptoms described below. Many of my senior clients have electrolyte issues and they are not sweating it out in the gym!
The warning signs of an electrolyte imbalance appear at first to be the same as those for dehydration, so awareness is key, especially if symptoms do not disappear with hydration alone.
Be on the lookout for these common symptoms, especially when hydration has already been cared for or the symptoms appear regularly:
- Muscle Spasms or Cramps
Seek immediate medical help if experiencing these more severe symptoms, which can definitely be a sign of an electrolyte imbalance, but may be signs of more critical issues as well:
- Low Blood Pressure
- Rapid Heart Rates
- Poor Skin Elasticity
- Sunken Eyes
Now that you know their importance, it’s very easy to keep your electrolytes in balance. Incorporate these simple tips into your daily life to keep your body operating optimally:
1. Start your day with a warm cup of lemon water. The potassium in lemon water is just one reason to add this into your routine.
2. Rehydrate and balance with the right amount of water for your body size and lifestyle. Pay attention to your thirst and also to the color of your urine (aiming for light to clear once a day). These are the most obvious indicators to your body fluid levels.
3. Drink unsweetened coconut water in between regular water consumption. Coconut water is a good source of electrolytes, potassium and magnesium and is very hydrating.
4. Regularly drink fresh juices that are naturally high in electrolytes, especially before and after exercising or spending time in hot weather. See some ideas about what vegetables and fruits to include below.
5. Eat foods that provide the key electrolytes your body needs.
- Potassium – coconut water, white beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, dried apricots, acorn squash, avocados, mushrooms, bananas, beets, oranges, sweet potatoes, apricots, tomatoes.
- Magnesium – coconut water, kelp, beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, hazelnuts), seeds (sunflower and sesame), beans.
- Calcium – tofu (make sure it’s organic – even better if it’s fermented – “tempeh”), beans, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, dried figs and apricots, nuts (hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds), seeds (including quinoa), sea vegetables.
- Sodium – Celery, beets, bok choy, bell peppers
6. Finally, if you are on any prescription medications, ask your Doctor if that medication will have any affect on your electrolyte balance and what is the best way to manage it, including alternative treatments or lifestyle modifications.
Joanne Beccarelli is a holistic health coach, juicing junkie, writer, soon to be cookbook author and recovered emotional eater. Inspired by many great voices in the health-thru-food revolution, Joanne found her way out of hiding in shame (losing almost 100 lbs in the process) and stepped away from the corporate world. She now dedicates every day to helping others who are overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, find awareness, fulfilment and better health.
Joanne has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell/T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and became a Certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is also a member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and the International Association of Health Coaches (IAHC).
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