In your normal diet, on a normal day, you generally get enough electrolytes through the foods you eat. But what happens when you work that little bit harder in the gym, or go for a longer run? You sweat more, which means you lose essential electrolytes.

Without the right balance of fluid and electrolytes in your body, you’re at risk of dehydration.. It’s important to understand where your electrolytes come from, what role they play in your body, and how you can keep up an adequate intake when you’re exercising.

Essential electrolytes leave your body every time you sweat

How do you normally get electrolytes?

The main electrolytes your body needs for healthy function are sodium, potassium and chloride.

If you’ve got a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables, then it’s likely that you’re getting enough electrolytes into you on a normal day. Fruits high in potassium include bananas, dates, raisins, coconut and avocado; while good vegetable sources include spinach, beans, lentils and potatoes. A common source of sodium and chloride is table salt, which is added to many packaged foods.

What do these electrolytes do?

Major electrolytes Function in the body
Sodium Drives fluid uptake and retention
Potassium Essential for nerve and muscle function
Chloride Helps the body retain fluid

Other important trace elements that your body needs for optimum performance include:

Other electrolytes Function in the body
Magnesium Important for muscle contraction and nerve function
Iron Critical to oxygen transport in the blood (endurance athletes are susceptible to iron depletion)
Zinc Important in exercise metabolism
Manganese Involved in metabolic energy production
Copper Important for blood health (a deficit can affect the immune and cardiovascular systems)

What happens when you lose electrolytes when exercising?

Essential electrolytes are leaving your body every time a drip of sweat rolls down your forehead (they also leave your body through your urine and other bodily fluids). A few drops of sweat isn’t a problem – it’s when you sweat heavily that it could cause dehydration.

Dehydration greater than 2% of your body weight can impact on exercise performance.

How can you maintain good electrolyte balance when exercising?

To avoid the compromising effects of dehydration when exercising, you need to ensure your fluid and electrolyte intake is enough to counter any depletion from sweating. Water alone may not be enough to replace fluid and electrolytes lost through heavy sweating.

The easiest way to maintain the ideal electrolyte balance in your body when exercising is to hydrate with an electrolyte solution before, during and after exercise. For example, using a low sugar, high electrolyte formulation such as Hydralyte Sports will help maintain your electrolyte levels – and your hydration status – where they should be.

If you’re not sure of how much Hydralyte Sport you should take when exercising, it’s a great idea to develop a personal hydration plan in consultation with your sports physician or doctor.