Keeping Your Electrolytes in Balance

Example of different colored sports drinks
Keep Your Electrolytes in Balance. Stratol / Getty Images

With the sweltering heat blanketing the nation, I know there's just one thing on your mind: Fluid replacement.

I know! It's almost like your mind is an open book, isn't it?

Maybe you're thinking more about air conditioning, but dehydration is a real concern when it's hot outside, a good time to ask yourself: How are my electrolytes doing?

If you're not exactly sure what electrolytes are, you're not alone.

In the simplest terms, electrolytes (which include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium) help maintain the fluid balance in your body. You lose electrolytes when you sweat, which can throw things out of balance, leading to dehydration.

When it comes to fluid replacement, there are a few general guidelines to follow to make sure your electrolyte situation is under control:

Before Exercise 

If you're about to do an extra long workout or if you're a 'salty' sweater (meaning there's salt residue on your skin and clothes after sweating) may want to have a salty snack or a sports drink before your workout. Otherwise, plain water will usually work fine for the average exerciser.

During Exercise 

If you're working out for more than an hour, experts recommend sipping a sports drink with carbs and electrolytes.

After Exercise 

Plain water won't always help you rehydrate after a hard, sweaty workout.

Experts recommend having a sports drink or a salty post-exercise snack like nuts, pickles, pretzels or crackers to replace AWOL electrolytes.

There are so many hydration products out there, it's hard to figure what you need. There are tablets, powders and drinks, some with calories and some without - how do you choose?

You'll find an excellent explanation of different electrolyte options in Shawn Dolan's article, Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options, but, the average exerciser (working out for 30-60 minutes, for example) can probably rely on water or a sports drink (like Gatorade) for fluid replacement.


Dolan S. Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options. The American Council on Exercise. Retrieved 8/10/2010.