Electrolytes

electrolytes2Have you ever been watching a sporting event on TV and during a break you see commercials about sports drinks that help replenish the body during or after an intense workout? Most of these ads will make sure to mention the need to replenish electrolytes and how their product contains them.

What are electrolytes and why are they important? 

Electrolytes have many functions in the body such as the regulation of nerve and muscle function as well as regulating blood pH, blood pressure, and our body’s hydration status. The muscles and neurons in our bodies rely on the movement of electrolytes between the fluids that are inside, outside, or in between our cells. In order for our muscles to contract, the presence of the electrolytes calcium, sodium and potassium are needed. Not only do they need to be present but they must also be at the right levels, if not then either weak or severe muscle contractions can occur. The heart is also dependent on these electrolytes for proper contractions. Electrolytes are lost when you sweat, so replenishment is needed during intense exercise or hot weather.

What are some food sources of electrolytes?

Electrolyte  Function  Sources 
Calcium Crucial for health of bones and teeth Yogurt, skim milk, leafy greens, cheese
Potassium Crucial for heart function Red meat, chicken, fish, peas, bananas, kiwis, and cantaloupe
Magnesium Helps body produce energy and needed for absorption of calcium Nuts, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, squash and pumpkin seeds
Sodium & Chloride Helps regulate blood volume and blood pressure Table salt, beets, celery, tomatoes, and olives

What happens if there is an imbalance of electrolytes? 

An imbalance of electrolytes can lead to several signs and symptoms. The symptoms will highly depend on whether the electrolytes are either too high or too low. Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle spasm
  • Confusion
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat

What causes electrolyte imbalances? 

  • Severe dehydration
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • Diuretic drugs
  • Kidney disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Sweating due to high fevers
  • Poor diet low in essential nutrients

For further reading: 

Electrolytes and Heart Contractions 

What are Electrolytes?

Prepared by Ricardo Blanco, Student Asst. and Hospitality Dietitian: Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD : mindy.diller@ttu.edu

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