What Are Electrolytes
“Electrolytes” is a nutrition term that gets thrown around. But what are they? Electrolytes are charged ions–mostly atoms–that transmit electricity. Why is that important? Your brain and muscles communicate with either other using tiny electrical impulses. Without electrolytes, this would not be possible. Electrolytes floating in your body allow these signals to be sent. The most common electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride. Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are all positive ions, and chloride is a negative ion.
If the atoms do not have a complete disassociation when dissolved in water, then they are called weak electrolytes. This means that they don’t transmit electricity quite as well because their electrons are less mobile.
Strong electrolytes are those electrolytes that are completely ionized in the water. So for instance, regular table salt is made of sodium chloride (NaCl). When it dissolves in water, it becomes floating ions of Na+ and Cl-. Because they completely dissolve, they can more powerfully transmit electricity when dissolved in water.
Non-electrolytes on the other hand does not dissolve in a solution. Imagine if you dropped some tiny plastic beads, or maybe some glitter into a glass of water. You could stir and mix up the mixture, but they would never dissolve in the way that salt does.
Benefits of Electrolytes in Water
We already went over how electrolytes, when dissolved in water, conduct electricity. Here are some of the things that this means for your body.
- Electrolytes let you drink more water – Because the body needs to transmit electrical signals, it requires a ratio of water to electrolytes. If you increase the amount of electrolytes in your body, that means that you can (have to, really) drink more water to balance them out. Regularly, this is a good thing. For healthy people, water and electrolytes help one feel energized, and without either of them, it can create a feeling of lethargy. If one has high-blood-pressure, though, this excess water can create a burden for the heart to pump around, and is a risk factor. This is why salt has a bad reputation.
- Restoring the Body Minerals – Electrolytes are used in all of your organs, not just in your brain. These also need to be replaced as they get used up or expelled. The most common way that you lose electrolytes is by sweating, but certain unpleasant ailments like diarrhea or vomiting can cause an electrolyte loss as well.
- Keeping it Cool – Water, that miracle molecule, is used by the body to maintain proper temperature, obviously via sweating. Without sweating, humans would not have near the athletic endurance that they have. In fact, humans are one of the strongest endurance mammals in the world. There are tribes in Africa that hunt by literally chasing antelope until the animal gets too tired to run anymore and collapses. This would not be possible without the amazing ability of humans to cool themselves by evaporative sweating.
Where Can I Find These Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are in many foods naturally. Also, nearly all processed foods add copious sodium. Since the human body evolved to need sodium but in a low-sodium environment, we evolved to perceive salty foods as delicious. With modern technology we have all the salt that we need, and processed food manufacturers take advantage of this.
Here are some of the natural ways to get some electrolytes:
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables – most green leafy vegetables are a great source of diverse electrolytes. You may not get much of the staple sodium, but you will get lots of trace minerals that are still important, such as selenium.
- Bananas – Bananas are pretty well known as having a lot of potassium, and this is still true.
- Beans, Nuts, whole grains – Similar to your leafy greens, beans, nuts, and whole grains will give you all the trace electrolytes that are still important. Manganese, calcium, and other minerals like iron and copper. While it is difficult to have too much of these trace electrolytes, it is possible. Anyone taking supplements for minerals like iron should be aware that it is possible to have too much, and it takes some time for the body to rid itself of excess minerals. This is different than vitamins like vitamin C or B12. These vitamins are easily flushed out by the body, and very rarely are any risk at all.
Having a boost of electrolytes can help turn up the energy, especially as one gets healthier. Why is this? Healthier, less processed diets typically have fewer electrolytes, and sodium in particular, which gets added into factory food. In excess, sodium can be a risk, but it is an incredibly vital nutrient. So for healthy diets, adding boosts of sodium back in can be just what the doctor ordered.
We recommend our Brode Electrolyte Vitmain as a product with no sugars or sweeteners, all the critical electrolytes, including sodium, and a special boost of B-vitamins, like C and B12.