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How do Electrolytes Support Physical Performance?

Introduction

Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge which are instrumental for many functions in the body. They include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride, which are essential for hydrating the body, as well as numerous functions such as regulating nerve and muscle function, balancing blood acidity and pressure, and helping to rebuild damaged tissue.

This article will explore the role that electrolytes play in physical performance, and how they may potentially optimise and improve performance during exercise.

How Electrolytes Improve Physical Performance

Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

Maintaining a state of hydration is not just about drinking enough water but maintaining an optimal balance of electrolytes. This balance is absolutely vital for maintaining your physical performance, as it helps transport nutrients into cells, waste out of the body, and maintain a healthy nervous system. Ultimately these processes ensure that functions such as nerve conduction, muscle contraction, recovery, and blood pressure maintenance can take place. Symptoms of potential electrolyte imbalance may include dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, and confusion, which may inhibit physical performance, as well as cognitive performance.

The Effects of Hydration Variability on Exercise Performance

Electrolytes directly influence muscle function, including contraction and relaxation. Essential for everyday and professional athletes, an optimal electrolyte balance helps prevent muscle cramps and fatigue, ensuring muscles perform efficiently during physical activities. Dehydration has been found to negatively affect strength exercise performance, with decreased repetitions, increased perceived exertion, and hindered heart rate recovery. Results from studies highlight the importance of adequate hydration during full body resistance exercise sessions (Kraft et al., 2010).

Further studies looked into the effects of dehydration vs optimal hydration on intermittent sprint performance. Results showed that dehydration impaired sprint performance, negatively altered perception of recovery status before exercise, and increased rate of perceived exertion as well as heart rate response (Davis et al., 2015).

Overall, critical reviews of the scientific literature suggest that dehydration limits strength, power and high-intensity endurance. This generally agreed opinion across the board implies that hydration is an important factor to consider when attempting to maximise physical performance in athletic domains (Judelson et al., 2007).

Energy Production

Beyond muscle function, electrolytes play a role in the metabolic pathways that generate energy. For instance, magnesium is a key element which plays a part in converting food into energy, supporting endurance and overall performance during prolonged physical activity.

Heat Stress and Electrolytes

During exercise, the body's temperature rises. Electrolytes help manage this by regulating the body's cooling process, with thermoregulation mechanisms such as sweating. Maintaining an electrolyte balance is critical to preventing heat-related exhaustion and decreased performance. Studies on anaerobic cycling found that combined heat exposure with dehydration negatively affect athletes to a significant degree, more so than just heat exposure or dehydration in isolation (Kraft et al., 2011).

Sources of Electrolytes

There are many great sources of electrolytes available simply from food; including but not limited the below:

Potassium: Bananas, salmon, white beans, avocado, potatoes, milk & mushrooms.

Sodium: Dill pickles, clams, table salt & cheese.

Magnesium: Spinach, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, tuna, brown rice & almonds.

Phosphorous: Yellowfin tuna, tofu, milk, chicken, scallops, pumpkin seeds & quinoa.

Calcium: Milk, cheese, spinach, tofu, yoghurt & trout.

You may notice that many foods are great for sourcing singular electrolytes, so if you want to get all of your electrolytes from diet alone, then combining foods may be a good idea. 

If you want to support your electrolyte intake, then be sure to check out our hydration drinks, convenient electrolyte beverages that deliver 500mg of Sodium Chloride, 295mg of Magnesium Lactate, and 190mg of Potassium Chloride. It contains 0g sugar, with no calories and is naturally sweetened. It is also caffeine-free, making it suitable to be consumed at any time of the day. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, electrolytes play a key role in supporting physical performance through hydration, muscle function and energy production. Everyday and professional athletes should aim to maintain an optimal balance through a combination of diet and supplementation tailored to their specific needs.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the most important electrolytes for physical performance?

Research suggests that sodium, potassium and magnesium are all crucial for hydration, muscle function, and energy production; all key processes for optimising physical performance.

How do you know if you're getting enough electrolytes?

Monitoring your body's signals, like muscle cramping and fatigue, can indicate low levels. 

Do only athletes need to worry about electrolytes?

While athletes may need to pay more attention to electrolyte balance, everyone needs them for basic bodily functions.

Are natural sources of electrolytes better than supplements?

Natural sources are generally recommended for their additional nutritional benefits, but supplements such as the Cadence electrolyte drink can be useful as a convenient option throughout the day or pre/intra/post training session.


References

Kraft JA, Green JM, Bishop PA, Richardson MT, Neggers YH, Leeper JD. Impact of dehydration on a full body resistance exercise protocol. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 May;109(2):259-67. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-1348-3. Epub 2010 Jan 12. PMID: 20066432.

Davis JK, Laurent CM, Allen KE, Green JM, Stolworthy NI, Welch TR, Nevett ME. Influence of Dehydration on Intermittent Sprint Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2586-93. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000907. Erratum in: J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Aug;32(8):e10. PMID: 25774626.

Judelson DA, Maresh CM, Anderson JM, Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS. Hydration and muscular performance: does fluid balance affect strength, power and high-intensity endurance? Sports Med. 2007;37(10):907-21. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200737100-00006. PMID: 17887814.

Kraft JA, Green JM, Bishop PA, Richardson MT, Neggers YH, Leeper JD. Effects of heat exposure and 3% dehydration achieved via hot water immersion on repeated cycle sprint performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Mar;25(3):778-86. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c1f79d. PMID: 20512070.