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Get Facts on Electrolytes…

The big question that keeps running in our minds is what to drink during and after an intense session of workout. This question becomes more important if you are an athlete or you are preparing for your next run. If you go to see the options are plenty, right from plain water, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice.

Now the question that arises is which among the above is the best? Is it plain water or is it sports drinks. Do they contain any magic component which boosts performance? Well, certainly they contain something which does magic but it is nothing but a well-balanced mixture of electrolytes. What do we understand when we say electrolytes?

An electrolyte is a substance that produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in water. Electrolytes carry a charge (negative or positive) and are essential for life. All higher forms of life need electrolytes to survive. Our body requires a balance of these negatively and positively charged ions.

Here are some key points about electrolytes.

  • Electrolytes are vital for the normal functioning of the human body
  • Fruit and vegetables are good sources of electrolytes
  • Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride and phosphate.
  • The symptoms of electrolyte imbalance can include twitching, weakness and, if unchecked, seizures
  • Elderly people are particularly susceptible to electrolyte imbalance
  • Hypercalcemia – too much calcium – is common in cancer patients
  • Kidney disease and severe dehydrationcan cause electrolyte imbalance
  • Patients with diabetesor heart failure have an increased risk of low sodium levels.

 

Each electrolyte in the body has its function to perform:

  • Calciumis responsible for building and maintaining strong bones, also plays a vital role in muscle and nerve functions, especially muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission i.e. transport of signals up and down the nerves which in turn directs the muscles to act
  • Sodium is the dominant positive ion which regulates body’s water content and also aids nerve communication.
  • Chlorideis found in blood and fluid outer layer of cells; along with sodium it helps control body’s water content.
  • Potassiumis needed to maintain normal functions of cells and muscles.
  • Magnesiumhelps convert blood sugar into energy, also supports over 300 enzyme reactions.
  • Phosphate facilitates absorption of calcium in bones as well as regulates the blood pH level.

When athletes perform and train they lose a substantial amount of water and electrolytes in the form of water. Drinking water replenishes hydration but, not electrolytes. In fact, drinking only water can sometimes dangerously dilute electrolytes in the body and worsen existing imbalance. This imbalance can manifest in form of symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, stomach cramps, stiff and achy joints, and even confusion and impaired judgment. In severe cases, seizures and even heart failure can occur. In other words, electrolyte depletion and imbalance can severely affect an athlete’s performance.

Sports drinks definitely play a role in reinstating electrolyte balance but, these are laden with sugar adding extra calories. A better way can be to indulge in foods rich in particular electrolytes like-

  • A salty meal like soup before a strenuous exercise session can help retain fluid and maintain hydration during exercise
  • Tomatoes, Olives, Lettuce help to replenish chloride
  • A large Banana contains 450-600 mg of Potassium
  • Melons, oranges, raisins or prunes, sweet potatoes, peas and beans are rich in sodium
  • Research shows that milk contains a mix of carbohydrates, calcium, sodium, potassium and good protein which aids muscle recovery.
  • Inclusion of these calcium rich foods like milk and cereal, yoghurt or latte in your diet helps a lot in creating Electrolyte balance.

Conclusion

Therefore we can conclude that electrolytes play an important role to maintain overall health. They become more important if an individual is exercising as the individual sweats more and loses a lot of electrolytes.

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