Electrolytes are mineral salts, essential for the proper functioning of our body: without them, our hydration is not optimal. What is their role in the body and what are their benefits?
- Definition: what is an electrolyte?
- The health benefits
- The usefulness of electrolytes in sport
Definition: what is an electrolyte?
Electrolytes are minerals that play a fundamental role in various functions of our body. They participate in particular in maintaining the acid-base balance and in muscular and nervous reactions. Electrolytes cannot be produced by our body, and must in this case be provided by our daily diet.
From a technical point of view, once dissolved in a liquid of the body, the electrolytes are transformed into ions, capable of carrying an electric charge. It is this electrical energy that participates in the execution of several actions. There are several electrolytes present in the body, the most numerous being: potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphorus.
The role of electrolytes
- Potassium : potassium contributes in particular to the proper functioning of the nervous system and muscles (eg muscle contractions);
- Sodium : Sodium helps regulate water balance and ensure optimal cell hydration. Sodium also regulates blood pressure, with the help of potassium;
- Calcium : Calcium plays a fundamental role in the proper functioning of bones and teeth. It also participates in muscle contraction and energy metabolism;
- Magnesium : Magnesium helps restore electrolyte balance, it also regulates the transfer of other electrolytes;
- Chloride : Chloride is essential for fluid transport processes in the body. It acts in synergy with sodium.
Where to find them?
Among foods, electrolytes are found in:
- Dried fruits (grapes, peach, etc.);
- Seafood (shrimp, sardines, etc.);
- Green vegetables (beans, avocado, lentils, etc.);
- Cheese ;
- Table salt;
- Seeds and oilseeds (almonds, cashew nuts, etc.).
The health benefits
The acid-base balance of the blood is defined by a more or less neutral pH level. It is this balance between acidity and alkalinity that allows our body to function properly. For this, the pH level should be between 7.35 and 7.45, on a scale from 0 to 14.
Calcium, potassium, magnesium play an important role in regulating the acid-base balance.
The balance of liquids is the basis of all vital processes: for good reason, our body is made up of 60% water. The supply of electrolytes in the body, especially magnesium and sodium, helps regulate our fluid balance.
Functioning of the nervous system
Electrolytes are involved in the proper functioning of the brain and nerve connections. This is why they are essential for all the motor functions of the body, in particular for muscle contractions. Thanks to the different actions on the cells of the body, the electrolytes stimulate the electrical signals sent to our muscles and contribute to carrying out movements.
The usefulness of electrolytes in sport
Prevents fatigue and dehydration
During training or physical exertion your body sweats and loses a significant amount of water. The strong sweating allows the body to regulate its temperature too high, and to find a normal temperature. However, by losing water, you also lose an important level of electrolytes and minerals. This is why, in order to maintain optimal performance, it is essential on the one hand, to rehydrate your body well, but also to provide it with an adequate replenishment of electrolytes (1).
After training, rebalancing the electrolyte stock is very important for your body to recover well. Indeed, if your body suffers from electrolyte deficiency, it can no longer perform a number of its functions. This can lead to different problems depending on the mineral in question: physical and mental fatigue, fragile bones, weak immune system. In addition, good hydration helps to avoid heat stress, delay fatigue and prevent injuries. Clearly, good hydration rich in mineral salts prevents certain health problems and loss of performance.
Improves endurance and performance
Taking an electrolyte-rich solution before, during or after training helps rebalance mineral stores in the body and aid recovery (2). When combined with a fast-absorbing carbohydrate, such as Cluster Dextrin or Maltodextrin , the electrolytes also support endurance and physical performance (3).
Electrolytes: allies of high heat
During periods of high heat such as heat waves, the risk of water and electrolyte imbalance is greater (4). Indeed, if the body undergoes a high temperature (above 37°) for a certain period of time, it will be forced to regulate this temperature through perspiration. Thermal regulation promotes the rapid elimination of water through the pores, and likewise, electrolytes.
The consequences can be all the more serious if you wish to practice a sports activity when it is very hot. Cramps, dehydration or discomfort are signs of heat stroke. This is why, according to one study, the contribution of an electrolyte solution makes it possible to recover well after a prolonged training session in high heat (5).
- Maughan, S. Shirreffs. Recovery from prolonged exercise: restoration of water and electrolyte balance. J Sports Sci.1997 Jun;15(3):297-303.
- D, William.B et al. Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition. 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):651-6.
- Nicholas, C. Williams et al. Influence of ingesting a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution on endurance capacity during intermittent, high-intensity shuttle running. J. Sports Sci. 1995 Aug;13(4):283-90.
- Leila H, Andrea W et al. Susceptibility to Heat-Related Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance Emergency Department Visits in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Oct; 13(10): 982.
- Bilzon, A. Allsopp et al. Short-term recovery from prolonged constant pace running in a warm environment: the effectiveness of a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution. Euro. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2000.July; 82, 305-312.