Understanding Electrolytes and Their Impact on Health
Growing up, you can probably recall seeing the Gatorade logo on every sports field and drinking it without thinking. For most, that neon drink was synonymous with hydration and physical exertion. Fortunately, science and nutrition have caught up and we now know that the sugary concoction we all chugged down to rehydrate after the big game may have been doing us more harm than good.
Electrolytes are critical to so many of the body’s key functions, so it’s important to take a deeper look into what they do, what makes a quality electrolyte, and how to get the right amount for your body.
Electrolyte 101 + Key Nutrients
Although we don’t talk about them much, electrolytes play a plethora of roles in the body. These tiny particles of metal carry electrical charges and are present in all body fluids including our blood, plasma, and urine. We need electrolyte replacement when we get sick with a common illness or something more serious like cancer or kidney disease. In daily life, extreme exercise and physical exertion also call for extra electrolytes.
The key minerals in electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and magnesium. Each plays a vital role in our body processes.
What do each of these essential nutrients do and why do they need to be balanced? Let’s dive deeper into each.
We need sodium to maintain normal blood pressure while also sending electrical messages to start a muscle contraction. Too much or too little salt can be problematic so getting the perfect balance through proper hydration is very important. At least 500 mg per day is ideal.
For instance, if you drink too much plain water during intense exercise, especially in hot weather, you may become nauseous, disoriented, and experience vomiting. Why? Because your cells are quite literally drying out from lack of sodium, and your kidneys begin to conserve water so you don’t urinate.
Potassium is an essential electrolyte. Living inside the cell, it controls water and acid-base balance while helping to relax a muscle contraction and to regulate heartbeat. Deficiency is common among the elderly, who are more apt to suffer chronic disease and to take medications that deplete this mineral.
Found in extracellular fluids, chloride, in the company of sodium (also found in table salt), helps to maintain proper fluid balance and pressure of the various fluid compartments.
Calcium is involved in contraction of cardiac and smooth muscle, but also supports blood clotting, maintains cell membrane permeability, and helps transmit nerve impulses. Calcium also supports strong teeth and bones, along with phosphorus. Most electrolyte products don’t contain calcium, because we get a lot of calcium from foods or supplementations. Too much calcium can cause vascular issues.
Last but not least, magnesium, which, like potassium, is found inside the cell. Not only is magnesium a constituent of over three hundred biochemical reactions in the body, but it also plays a role in the synthesis of both RNA and DNA. It affects muscle function, energy production, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism. Half the U.S. population is deficient in this critical mineral.
Magnesium is a relaxant so taking too much can cause lethargy, but too little can create symptoms such as muscle weakness, tremors, and dizziness and in the worst cases lead to cardiac arrhythmia.
Now that we understand the critical role that electrolytes play in the body, including — manufacturing energy, maintaining membrane stability, aiding in the movement of fluids, and contracting muscles like the heart — you may wonder, but do I need them? Yes! We all do, and sometimes extra support is necessary to maintain ideal health.
Anatomy of a Muscle Cramp
Cramping is one of the most common complaints of athletes. It can occur at any time but most often at the tail end of a workout. Cramps are a one-way street in the complete cycle of muscle action. All body motion is controlled by the opening and closing of ion channels that sit in the membranes of all cells. Sodium (Na) contracts the cell and potassium (K) relaxes it. A similar action occurs to transmit a thought with Na and K triggering neurons (de-polarizing) to both transmit and fire. In effect, the electrolytes do it all. You can’t blink your eyes or even see or hear without them.
A heart cell begins the process with Calcium (Ca) signaling the Sodium (Na) ion channel to open to begin the contraction cycle. There are hundreds of Na and K ion channels on each cell. A half-second later Magnesium (Mg) encourages K to rush in which relaxes the cell. That’s the beat of your heart or the closing of your fist. With a heart cell the cycle is non stop— constrict with Na and relax with K. It's quite easy to see what happens when a muscle cramps.
Finding the Right Balance
One of the key facts that’s overlooked about hydration is that we can only get it through water. Not true! In fact, there is water in many of the foods we eat and other beverages we drink.
Further, for most people in good health, the body can properly maintain ideal hydration on its own. But, we also know that many situations call for additional hydration including stress, poor diet, pregnancy, illness, and medications. Each of these factors can play a role in proper electrolyte function. Since we don’t know for sure how much hydration is coming from our food, and it’s hard to keep track of 8 glasses of water per day, supplementing with a high-quality Electrolyte product can help to ensure you’re getting what you need.
Sugar and Electrolytes
One of the primary problems with most electrolyte drinks on the market is the amount of sugar per serving. Think back to our Gatorade example at the beginning of this article. A 20-ounce Gatorade contains 26 grams of sugar, that’s just slightly less than soda. Sugar is a carbohydrate that hinders the body's ability to process a hydration drink because it slows absorption.
We know that too much processed sugar can have negative effects on our health, but you may not know that sugar also affects electrolyte balance. Sports drinks containing sugar elevate insulin as part of the metabolic process, thus increasing the renal excretion of magnesium (Djurhuus, 1995, 2000) and calcium (Hodgkinson, 1965).
Further, sugar arrests the secretion of stomach acid so that processing of nutrients, including the electrolyte minerals, is stymied. Sugar even increases the acidity that tumors find so hospitable to their growth and development (DiPette, 1986).
Think of it this way. A doctor would never prescribe a Gatorade, Pepsi, or Coke in a critical life-threatening situation, so we have to think beyond these sugary drinks!
Introducing E-Lyte: Electrolytes Elevated
Back in 1984, our founder, Ed Kane was looking for a product that would ease his leg cramps, a side effect of marathon running and training. When he came up short of anything that didn’t contain tons of additives and sugar, he made his own… in his bathtub! It took several iterations, but eventually, E-Lyte was formulated perfectly and has been a staple ever since for anyone who wants to restore energy levels, hydrate naturally, and fight cramps.
Ed’s goal was to create a product that mimicked the electrolyte levels in the body to mimic the natural processes and absorption of macro minerals potassium, sodium, and magnesium & their chemical partners: phosphate, chloride, bicarbonate, and sulfate.
There are many drinks sold under the guise of containing electrolytes. However, most fall way short of the needed concentration and are overly sweet. On the other hand, some high-quality electrolytes are bitter and overly salty.
The good news? We’ve created the perfect combination. E-Lyte Balanced Electrolyte Concentrate contains the perfect concentration of electrolytes and is also sugar-free (and no fake sugars either!). It has a salty flavor, but it’s very subtle and you may find your body beginning to crave it. Just add two capfuls to your water and you’re ready for anything the day can throw your way.
If you’re looking for a more natural way to hydrate that works with your body to create a perfect balance, check out E-Lyte.
S. Djurhuus Hyperglycaemia enhances renal magnesium excretion in Type 1 diabetic patients Scan Jou of Clin & Laboratory Investigation. 2000, Vol. 60, No. 5 , Pages 403-410
Hodgkinson, A and Heaton FW The effect of food ingestion on the urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium Clinica Chimica Acta. Volume 11, Issue 4, April 1965, Pages 354-362