by Renell Ford RDN, LD
Electrolyte replenishment during exercise
Dehydration occurs when our bodies lose essential electrolytes through sweating; sweating is the body’s built-in cooling system. Electrolytes control water moving in and out of the cells. If your body doesn’t have the proper balance of electrolytes, plain water cannot get into the cells to rehydrate us.
Not replenishing electrolytes properly during and after exercise can have lasting effects. Muscle fatigue may come about sooner, as well as an increased heart rate. This results in a decrease in athletic performance and can hinder muscle recovery. Negative effects from just one workout could even continue to hinder workouts for a few days after that.
So when is it important to replenish electrolytes?
Before exercise- There is currently no recommendation for electrolyte intake before exercise unless you are a salty sweater (skin and clothing covered in salt residue during/after exercise). If this is you, then you should eat a salty snack or drink an electrolyte drink pre-exercise.
During exercise- Replenishing electrolytes is only recommended if you are exercising longer than 60-90 minutes.
After exercising less than 60 minutes- Drink about 16 ounces of plain water for every pound lost during exercise. This will differ person to person, but is pretty consistent for each individual. So if you weigh before and after a workout a few times, you will have a pretty good average. Also, consuming a balanced diet contributes to keeping electrolytes balanced.
After exercising 60-120 minutes- Drinking just plain water after high-intensity/long-duration exercise is not always effective for rehydration. You will need to either eat a food that contains sodium like a pickle, salted nuts or consume an electrolyte drink. When selecting a hydration drink, look for a product that has between 250-350 grams of sodium and under 10 grams sugar. I personally like the NUUN Hydration sport tablets that you just drop in your water.
After exercising more than 120 minutes- You will want to look for an electrolyte drink that is endurance specific which has a few more carbohydrates/sugar.