A young man pauses his run to drink water

Could You Have an Electrolyte Imbalance?

When walking down the sports drink aisle at the grocery store, you’ve probably seen labels claiming to offer “electrolyte replenishment,” but what does that actually mean? And do you really need to drink one of those brightly colored bottles after a workout?

Why Are Electrolytes Important? 

Electrolytes are responsible for several bodily functions, including contracting muscles, sending electrical signals throughout the nervous system, and keeping your pH balance in check. They carry an electric charge when dissolved in water, so it’s important to hydrate regularly. 

Examples of electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Eating a natural diet is an easy way to maintain balance as you can find these minerals in many fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. 

When Is It Necessary to Replace Electrolytes? 

You lose electrolytes when you sweat, vomit, and use the restroom. It takes a very intense workout to drain your electrolyte stores, so it isn’t necessary to overdo it on replenishment if your workout lasts an hour or less. If you do exercise for over an hour, opt for natural sources of electrolytes since sports drinks often have too much added sugar, offsetting its benefits. 

Severe bouts of vomiting or diarrhea can have a more significant impact on your electrolyte levels, so drink a natural source of electrolytes, such as coconut water or broth, when you’re ill. Other things that can alter your electrolyte levels include chemotherapy, congestive heart failure, eating disorders, severe burns, and poor diet. If any of these situations apply to you, speak with your doctor about your best course of action. 

If you need to replenish your stores after a workout, skip the sports drink and make our electrolyte-packed smoothie instead!

       Green-Lyte Smoothie 

                Serves 1

                Ingredients: 

                1 frozen banana
                1 kiwi
                ½ avocado
                ½ cup of coconut water
                ½ cup of fresh spinach
                1 tablespoon of almond butter (optional)

                Place all ingredients in a blender and combine until smooth. 

 

What Are the Signs of a Severe Electrolyte Imbalance? 

When someone has too many or too few electrolytes, they can experience several symptoms, including: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Headaches
  • Weak muscles
  • Cramps
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Confusion

If you experience any troubling symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate medical care at your nearest CHI St. Luke’s Health emergency room. If these symptoms appeared after a period of intense exercise, our team will look for signs of heat-related illness, rhabdomyolysis, an electrolyte imbalance, and other conditions. 

For more information about staying healthy when exercising, join the CHI St. Luke’s Health Run Club to gain access to the tools you need to shape your training habits and prevent injury and illness. 

Sources: 
Healthline | Electrolytes: Definition, Functions, Imbalance and Sources
Medical News Today | Everything you need to know about electrolytes
Healthline | Should You Drink Sports Drinks Instead of Water
Healthline | How to Prevent an Electrolyte Imbalance
Livestrong | A List of Fruits & Vegetables High in Electrolytes