Electrolytes, namely sodium and chloride, with small amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, are lost through sweat. Because athletes sweat more than the average person, many opt for sports drinks to replenish their electrolytes after intense training sessions.
You may notice that many sports drinks and oral rehydration solutions contain glucose (sugar). Many companies add sugar not only for flavor but also to improve hydration.
But do you really need glucose in your electrolyte drink?
In short, no.
Although glucose does help with the absorption of electrolytes, your body doesn’t require glucose to absorb them.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you the rundown on electrolyte absorption and the importance of electrolytes for athletes.
- We need electrolytes for proper fluid balance, brain function, and muscle contraction.
- The most important electrolytes for athletes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.
- Although glucose can help enhance the absorption of electrolytes, it is not necessary.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ELECTROLYTES
When you sweat, you don’t just lose water. You also lose electrolytes. During exercise, athletes lose large quantities of sodium and chloride.
They also lose potassium, calcium, and magnesium in smaller quantities.
Electrolytes are minerals found in your body that carry an electric charge. Transporters such as glucose and amino acids allow your cells to maximize electrolyte absorption.
We need electrolytes to carry out basic life functions. In particular, they help rebuild damaged tissue and regulate muscle function, nerve function, and fluid balance.
Without adequate amounts of fluid and electrolytes, you are at risk for dehydration and symptoms such as fatigue, headache, dizziness, and decreased physical performance.
To replenish your systems, support endurance, delay fatigue, and reduce muscle cramps, athletes should consume electrolytes before, during, or after training.
TYPES OF ELECTROLYTES
The most important electrolytes for athletes are:
Sodium plays a major role in keeping your systems working correctly. It aids in maintaining fluid balance, optimal brain function, and supporting the proper muscle and nerve function. Sodium also helps control blood volume and blood pressure.
Similar to sodium, potassium is essential for optimal human performance. It is necessary for muscle contraction, fluid balance, bone growth, blood pressure regulation, and nerve function.
It also helps control heart rate and plays a key role in the nervous system by relaying messages between your brain and body.
Failing to replenish potassium during or after a workout can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, irregular heartbeat, and constipation.
Magnesium supports normal nerve and muscle function and helps maintain heart rate, immunity, and bone integrity. It also improves calcium absorption.
Studies also suggest magnesium enhances athletic performance by increasing glucose availability in the blood, brain, and muscle during physical activity. Furthermore, magnesium helps decrease lactate levels in the muscle. Lactate buildup can cause a temporary burning sensation in your muscles during intense exercise.
Chloride is one of the most important electrolytes found in your blood. Your body needs it in fairly large amounts to run smoothly.
This mineral helps the muscles and heart contract. It is also responsible for keeping the fluid inside and outside of the cells in balance and maintaining normal cell function.
ELECTROLYTE ABSORPTION: DO YOU NEED SUGAR?
No. Simple as that.
Sugar can aid in the absorption of electrolytes, but it isn't necessary for it.
Many people believe that sugar is needed for electrolyte absorption and proper hydration, but it isn't.
Without getting too sciency, glucose aids in transporting chloride, sodium, and water across the intestinal barrier.
The history dates back to 1960 when American biochemist Dr. Robert Crane presented his discovery of sodium-glucose co-transport when he hypothesized that glucose accelerates the absorption of sodium in the gut.
Because of his discovery, oral rehydration therapy was developed using a combination of sugar, salt, and water.
Today, oral rehydration therapy is considered to be one of the most important medical advances of this century. It is administered to prevent dehydration after severe bouts of diarrhea.
While solutions that include glucose have saved millions of lives over the years and can benefit a child with diarrhea, glucose is not sodium’s only method of transportation.
For those who are looking to avoid sugar, other co-transporters exist that can help deliver sodium to the intestines for maximum hydration.
OTHER WAYS TO ABSORB SODIUM
Sodium can be absorbed in the gut by several different mechanisms. Here are some ways sodium is absorbed and transported to the cells without sugar.
PHOSPHORUS: Helps transfer electrolytes through intestinal cells via sodium-phosphate co-transporter.
BUTYRATE: A nutrient produced by bacteria in the gut when they break down dietary fiber. Studies suggest butyrate can stimulate water and sodium absorption in the intestines.
AMINO ACIDS: Certain amino acids such as alanine, cysteine, and serine are transported by sodium-dependent transporters.
SODIUM AND TRAINING
Sodium often gets a bad rap, but you need it, especially if you're a heavy sweater.
Although government guidelines recommend Americans to consume no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day, it's not enough and is in fact linked to higher blood pressure.
Athletes and individuals pushing the limits can lose upwards of 7,000mg of sodium per day through sweat, and it needs to be replaced!
Those who lose too much sodium while training are at risk for muscle cramps and suboptimal recovery.
Needless to say, it’s important to consume enough sodium for ideal functioning and performance.
One 2015 study found that athletes who replenished their sodium lost through sweat completed a half-marathon 26 minutes faster than those who did not.
The amount of sodium lost through sweat depends on a person’s fitness level, sex, clothing, and heat acclimation. If you notice white crystals on your skin or clothing after sweating, it’s likely that you are a salty sweater and may need even more sodium to replenish the amount lost through sweat.
Although the exact amount varies, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that endurance athletes consume at least 300-600 milligrams of sodium per hour during prolonged exercise, whereas a second study shoes that the "sweet spot" for sodium intake lands at 5,000mg per day.
Electrolytes are essential minerals we need for many vital processes in our body. Certain electrolytes, such as sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium, are lost through sweat and need to be replenished to maintain fluid balance, muscle contraction, and brain function.
Many sports drinks contain large amounts of glucose to enhance electrolyte absorption. Although glucose can improve electrolyte absorption, it is not necessary.
Other co-transporters such as amino acids, phosphorus, and butyrate can also help carry sodium into your cells.
LYTES is formulated with a complete electrolyte profile to replace lost electrolytes from sweat to keep your body hydrated and performing at optimal levels.
Best of all, it’s completely free of sugar, carbs, and artificial ingredients.