If you’re worried about dehydration, whether that’s because of illness, exercise, or hard physical work in tough conditions, you’re going to have to learn about electrolytes. If you don’t take account of these important chemicals, you could find yourself rehydrated, but still suffering the effects of dehydration: thirst, headaches, difficulty concentrating and even confusion and unconsciousness.
What are Electrolytes?
First of all we need to look at what these chemicals are, so we understand why they’re so important.
Electrolytes are minerals that can carry an electric charge (mostly salts) that are dissolved in your blood, sweat and urine. The key electrolytes used by your body include sodium, potassium and magnesium, and many more. When you sweat, or urinate, or when you’re sick, you don’t just lose water, you lose the electrolytes dissolved in it.
What Do Electrolytes Do?
Each electrolyte has different functions but some of the most important ways they are used in your body are:
- Maintaining hydration
When you drink water, it’s processed by your body and enters your bloodstream. Cells can take water from your bloodstream when they need it, and eject water back into your blood when they have too much. Electrolyte levels help your cells maintain the right concentration of water, and ensure they can absorb it from the blood when they need it, or leech it away when necessary.
- Muscle and Nervous System Function
For you to reach out and pick up your TV remote, lots needs to happen in your body. The impulse in your brain needs to be transmitted through your nervous system as an electric charge, and received by the appropriate muscles, which then need to contract and expand as necessary to make the movement.
All of that is made possible by the right electrolytes in the right concentrations. The small electrical spark of a nervous impulse is created by sodium, while calcium makes muscle contraction possible. This is why low electrolyte levels can cause muscles to become twitchy and uncomfortable.
Rehydration and Electrolytes
When you rehydrate by drinking water, you don’t do anything to replenish the electrolytes you’ve lost. This means you can still suffer the effects of dehydration after drinking a pint of water: dizziness, confusion, lack of concentration and worse.
If you’re working out outside in the heat, don’t just carry water with you: keep some electrolyte pills in your kitbag, so you can be sure you’re replenishing those important chemicals and keeping yourself at the peak of performance!