Electrolytes – How Important Are They?

Now that the weather is heating up and we are venturing outdoors to exercise more than ever after working from home and lockdown what do we need to know to keep our bodies well maintained as we move into the New Year with our resolutions to be more physically active?

In Melbourne particularly we are experiencing a change in attitude to the ways that we exercise and where we choose to do it. Bicycle sales are up and more and more walking paths are being accessed each week as many of us sought a break from working at home or being in lockdown and grappled with gym closures and the need to get out in nature to move in a bid to maintain not only our physical but our mental health.

What do we need to know to make sure as we step up the exercise and we have all that we need to maintain not only good health and wellbeing but vital physiological processes? Enter Electrolytes!

Electrolytes are minerals and compounds within the body that carry an electrical charge that is essential to a variety of vital physiological processes such as maintaining fluid balance, regulation of osmotic pressure in cells and maintenance of the function of muscle and nerve cells. Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are all electrolytes. These are mainly obtained from our diet and are found in every part of our bodies.

They are essential to life and without them, our nerves and muscles (including heart and lungs) wouldn’t be able to function properly.

Given the importance of movement and mobility and exercise, maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance and filtering excess solutes through the kidneys and urine is essential to our ability to exercise and recover well.

Whilst sports drinks are big business and often endorsed by some of the world’s elite athletes due to their electrolytes, the simple answer for most people is to hydrate simply with good old-fashioned water.

The Australian Nutrient Reference Values advises women to drink around 2.1 litres a day and 2.6 for men but everyone is different and variables such as the weather and your exertion will change this. It is important to pay attention to what your body needs.

Most sports drinks are acidic and contain high amounts of sugar so they can also add extra kilojoules which can be counterproductive and impact upon your tooth enamel adding to decay after long term use. However, if you undertake in extreme exercise or sports sessions you may need something more.

Electrolytes are essentially trace minerals so remember that we can get them from our foods, so it is essential to have a diet that has an adequate supply. Sodium is excessive in highly processed and packaged foods including salty foods which most of us get more than enough from, while potatoes and bananas are high in potassium. Magnesium particularly can be found in seeds and nuts so these are a great snack for that nature hike or between equipment at the gym. Whilst we think of dairy foods for our source of calcium many fruits and vegetables provide a great alternative such as green leafy vegetables (kale, bok c