Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that are found in the body’s blood, tissues, urine and other bodily fluids. Common electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium. We get these naturally from the foods we eat and the fluids we drink. Fruits and vegetables are especially good sources of electrolytes.
Electrolytes are important because they help regulate the body, produce energy, balance the amount of water, move nutrients into your cells and move waste out of your cells. They also help keep your heart, brain, nerves and muscles working properly.
We lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. The levels of electrolytes in the body can become too low or too high when the amount of water in the body changes. If you lose more fluids than what you are taking in, dehydration can occur. The severity of dehydration can depend on several factors, such as climate, level of physical activity and diet.
Common symptoms of dehydration are increased thirst, dry mouth, headache, dark-colored urine, dizziness and lethargy. Dehydration can be mild, or it can be severe enough to be life-threatening. You should seek medical attention immediately if the symptoms also include fainting, lack of urination, rapid heartbeat, confusion, shock and/or rapid breathing.
Replacing fluids back into your body is a must before, during, and after activity to maintain your heart rate and body temperature. The addition of sodium and potassium may be important for rehydration after exercise.
Electrolyte-enhanced waters, such as sports drinks, may benefit athletes by helping replace water, electrolytes and energy lost during exercise. When you exercise heavily, you lose water and salts in your sweat. It is recommended that athletes who exercise for more than 2 hours and those that have salt residue on their skin or clothing should take electrolyte supplements as part of their workout regimen.
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