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What Are Electrolytes? And How Do They Affect Performance?

January 22, 2015

We Know Electrolytes Are Important for Hydration, But Why? 

Your body is a complex and carefully-balanced superhighway of cells, tissues, and fluids that, almost every second, directs an incomprehensible array of electrical impulses. This is only possible because those cells, tissues, and fluids thrive in a homeostatic environment where they conduct electricity well enough to carry the signals to their intended destinations.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolyte is a “medical/scientific” term for mineral salts, specifically ions. Electrolytes are the spark that keeps our body running. They are necessary for life. They are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across them- selves and to other cells.

Deficiencies Cause Bodily Functions To Slow Down And Eventually Stop

These electro-chemicals influence the body’s pH — a chemical balance that determines how effectively the biological systems run. When there is a deficiency of body electricity, body functions slow down and eventually stop. Micronutrients play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and the protection of body tissues from oxidative damage. They are also required to help build and repair muscle tissue following exercise.

Electrolytes facilitate delivery of oxygen to achieve and maintain peak brain function and proper nervous system response. The constant firing of micro-electric impulses across the synapses of the brain requires a great deal of energy. Only electrolytes can supply this. If, because of electrolyte imbalance, there isn’t enough oxygen available for the nerve cells to fire when needed, the brain functions less effectively. The body uses oxygen to turn nutrients into energy through the process of primary oxygenation. This simply means that electrolytes help the oxygen create a chemical reaction that ultimately allows the body to “burn” the nutrients as fuel.

Electrolytes Help Maintain Balance Of Fluids For Hydration, Nerve Impulses, Muscle Function, and pH Levels During Exercise

There are several common electrolytes found in the body, each serving a specific and important role, but most are in some part responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids between the intracellular (inside the cell) and extracellular (outside the cell) environments. This balance is critically important for things like hydration, nerve impulses, muscle function, and pH level.

Approximately 4% of the human body mass is composed of 21 macro and trace minerals that are essential for life. When mineral levels are insufficient to meet the demands of the body under emotional, physiological, and psychological stresses (such as during physical activity), the result will most likely be a substandard level of performance. For athletes or weekend exercisers, this increases the risk of serious injury and reduces the recovery rate after strenuous work or exercise.

Are More Electrolytes Better Than Less?

Sports drinks and supplement manufacturers who claim their electrolyte-forming minerals facilitate proper rehydration may be only partially correct. Macro and trace minerals work in combination to provide the proper environment for electrolyte formation and maximum absorption. According Dr. Gerald Olarsch, N.D., if there are too few trace-minerals in a drink they will be unable to form the proper electrolyte balance to enter the cell and maximize rehydration. 

To find out which trace minerals are important for proper balance during exercise, read the publication titled: "Analyzing Sports Drinks: Carbohydrate or Electrolyte Replacement", by sports nutritionist, Nina Anderson (SPN) of Safe Goods Publishing. The full version PDF is available here:


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