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Wellness Wednesday: Electrolytes

With the marathon coming up in less than 2 months (ahh!), the topics for Wellness Wednesday will all be really important to those preparing for long-distance races. For today’s Wellness Wednesday, let’s learn about the importance of electrolytes!

We all think we know what electrolytes are – they’re in Gatorade! Who doesn’t love Gatorade?! My step-mom actually tried to tell me the other day that she’s never had Gatorade before!! WHAT! And then my dad said that no, she did in fact have some Gatorade the other day while they were on the golf course. But she was parched and they were out of water (I think). So, this woman, in all of the years of her life, has had Gatorade ONE TIME. That is crazy to me. Every camp in the history of everdom provides super-diluted powdered lemon-lime Gatorade in giant tubs so even if you didn’t play any sports, you’ve probably had Gatorade at least once in your life.

Gatorade got really popular back in the late 1960s when researchers at the University of Florida developed a drink that was a combination of water, sugar, potassium, sodium, phosphate and some lemon juice. Bam! You’ve got Gatorade. The drink gained traction when the Gators credited their Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech to having drank Gatorade during half-time (sound familiar?) while Georgia Tech just drank water.

Thanks for the history lesson but how is this relevant?

Well, it’s the first commercialized electrolyte drink! Duh!

Why do we care about electrolytes?

Electrolytes do a lot of things but to pare it down: electrolytes regulate functions in your body (blood pressure, pH, hydration, nerve function, muscle function). When we exercise, we sweat and lose electrolytes (mainly potassium and sodium) so we must replace them. Conversely, your electrolyte balance can be thrown off in the opposite direction and your body can have high potassium, calcium, and sodium levels. Most(!!) people do not need to worry about having high levels of some electrolytes but it is important to be aware that some medications and conditions can cause the high levels.

If your electrolytes are thrown off, you’re probably feeling pretty crappy. A lot of the symptoms are similar to dehydration: headache, fatigue, nausea, flu-like symptoms, etc. When you’re feeling these symptoms, it’s important to take stock of your recent activity.

Great! Cool! Now how do we get ‘em?

Aside from Gatorade and other sports drinks, electrolytes are pretty easy to get: consume some fresh fruit and vegetables. Yeah, it’s that simple! Gatorade, and other sports drinks, is a popular source of electrolytes because it’s even easier.

There are also electrolyte tabs which are my favorite source of getting electrolytes (aside from fruit). I buy the nuun brand electrolyte tablets and pop them in an 8-oz glass of water. I also like to alternate between water and nuun during distance races because the flavor is minimal and it doesn’t upset my stomach like Gatorade does.

Keep in mind: most versions of Gatorade and other sports drinks are high in carbohydrates and calories so you should limit your consumption if you’re watching your weight. I would suggest, if you must drink Gatorade, to dilute it with water.

Electrolytes & Sports

I mention earlier that when you sweat, you lose electrolytes and you’ll need to replace them at some point. Do you ever sweat so much during a workout and get a headache afterwards? Yeah, I have. Have you ever watched a marathon and seen runners collapse less than 200 feet from the finish line? I have. The runners are (probably) severely dehydrated and their electrolyte balance is out-of-whack which can cause cramps in the legs and lead to collapsing. So, moral of the story is: drink water, consume electrolytes (Gatorade, nuun, fruit, vegetables).