If you’ve finished a tough work out and found yourself feeling less than your best, you might be experiencing more than dehydration.
Electrolytes are the essential vitamins and minerals used by your body to ensure its systems run effectively – they’re present throughout your body, and they can be sweated out when you’re overheated, whether that’s due to exercise, hard work or hot weather.
If your electrolyte levels dip below normal it can have serious effects. Electrolytes serve a number of different functions in the body, from helping your cells maintain the right level of hydration, to helping transmit nerve impulses from your brain and making sure your muscles function properly.
Let’s take a closer look at the function of each electrolyte.
The Seven Electrolytes
- Sodium helps your body to regulate water effectively by transferring water between cells and your bloodstream, it also helps your body shed excess water when it needs to.
- Chloride also plays a part in how your body handles water, as well as balancing acidity in your body’s tissues.
- Potassium ensures your heartbeat stays regular and helps with neuron transmission.
- Magnesium helps nerve impulses transmit throughout your body, while also affecting your mood and energy levels.
- Calcium ensures your muscles function correctly, making sure you can do what you want when you want to.
- Phosphate helps your cells function, from energy production to healing.
- Bicarbonate helps your cells maintain homeostasis and a normal level of acidity.
Reasons Electrolytes Run Low
Exercise isn’t the only reason your electrolyte levels might dip, though it is a big one.
Hot weather can sometimes feel like a workout. As we sweat our electrolyte levels are depleted, the hotter the temperature, the more water (and electrolytes) are lost through sweat.
Once your electrolyte levels have started to dip it’s easy to make the situation worse: as we begin to feel dehydrated we naturally drink water to quench our thirst. Drinking too much water without topping up our electrolytes can hinder rather than help the situation, by doing this we dilute the remaining electrolytes in your system, they become less effective and we usually find ourselves feeling even worse off!
It’s important to point out that certain health conditions that can limit your body’s ability to absorb electrolytes from your diet, making it difficult for you to maintain healthy levels of these important nutrients. For any advice on this please seek advice from a medical professional.
When your body starts running low on electrolytes, certain important processes start to work less efficiently.
You begin to lose the ability to balance the level of water your cells and bloodstream. Normally, you can transfer water into your cells when they need it, or back into your bloodstream if they don’t, and eventually filter that water through the kidneys so it can leave the body altogether. When your electrolyte levels fall your body starts to lose the ability to manage this process effectively.
When your electrolyte levels drift below safe levels your nerve impulses flow less efficiently, and your muscles react more slowly and less regularly.
What Does it Feel Like?
The physical effects in your body create dramatic and unpleasant symptoms.
Similar to dehydration, low electrolyte symptoms start with a headache, if you don’t take any action this can escalate quickly. You’ll find yourself feeling exhausted and lethargic, and you’ll have to work harder to get things done as your muscles will not respond as effectively.
Even if you drink lots of water you might still find yourself feeling thirsty. Without electrolytes to manage how your body uses water, the water can’t get to where it needs to be in order to hydrate your cells and quench your thirst.
As your body’s systems start to get out of balance, you may find that you’re experiencing diarrhoea (or constipation) as well as vomiting – aware that something is wrong, your body tries to flush away toxins, but this actually makes the situation worse!
Eventually, if you don’t top up your electrolytes and restore normal function, you’ll experience muscle spasms (including an irregular heartbeat), mental confusion, and unconsciousness.
Avoiding Low Electrolytes
O.R.S. can help: our electrolyte replacement tablets are based on the World Health Organisation standards for rehydration, so you know they contain everything your body needs after exercise, illness or a heatwave. O.R.S tablets dissolve quickly in water and perfectly fit in a small bag, convenient to use whenever and wherever you need them.
Simply drop, dissolve, drink.