What Are Electrolytes?

Does what you're drinking right now contain electrolytes? If it does, are you any healthier? What is an electrolyte, anyway? Since so many bottled beverages on the market these days contain them, let's learn a bit more about what we're consuming.

By definition, an electrolyte is a positively or negatively charged substance which can conduct electricity when dissolved in water or blood. Plain water, by itself, is not an electrolyte solution. But when you add table salt, which is composed of sodium chloride, the salt breaks up into the positively-charged sodium ion and the negatively-charged chloride ion in the water. Thus, your salt water is an electrolytic solution.

Having the right electrolyte balance in the body is extremely important. The function of our organs relies on various charged particles. For instance, positively-charged calcium, potassium, and sodium ions are key in muscular contraction. Sodium and potassium are also very important for our nervous system to relay messages.

However, that doesn't mean you should drown in electrolyte drinks just to strengthen your muscles. In a healthy person, the kidneys will decide if you've consumed an excess of electrolytes, and just flush them out. (Now, that's some expensive flushing!) You need to be careful on hot days if you underconsume electrolytes, though. If you are exercising a lot and drinking a lot of plain water, you may put yourself at risk for hyperhydration, which can be fatal. In this situation, be sure to occasionally consume a salty snack, or some electrolyte-rich sports drink.

You can make your own sports drink at home and add sugar and lemon juice as flavoring. But, as you want to be sure to include key electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, it may be cheaper to purchase a pre-made drink. If anyone has ideas for a homemade sports drink recipe, I'd love to hear about it!

Stay hydrated and keep at it! :)

 — Brooke :)