Electrolytes: Why You Need Them and How to Get Them
Proper hydration is critical not only for general body functions but also for performance. Research suggests that dehydration of as little as 2% from normal can impair peak performance. The more dehydrated you are, the more of a negative impact it has on your performance. In addition to consuming a sports drink during exercise, it is important to make sure you are properly hydrated before starting a workout.
When you sweat, you lose both fluids and electrolytes. The role of electrolytes is to regulate fluid levels in your body, helping you to maintain hydration. Your body requires electrolytes to stay within a certain range, and when they become unbalanced, it can lead to several problems, including but not limited to, muscular and neurological issues, both of which can impair performance. While sweating, sodium is the nutrient lost in the greatest amount.
An easy way to tell if you are hydrated is by looking at the color and output of your urine. You want to aim for a light yellow color – anything darker could indicate that you are dehydrated. While this is a good tool, you do have to be careful due to the fact that some vitamins may affect the color.
However, it is important to remember that hydrating properly is not just about water, and you can actually drink too much of it during exercise. This results in a decrease in the sodium concentration in our body, called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia can be as big a problem as dehydration. To combat this, make sure you are not thirsty prior to a workout, and that you have access to fluids during your workout. For prolonged exercise, it is important to make sure you are consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink to replace what your body is losing.
While paying attention to hydration and electrolyte intake during workouts is always important, it is even more critical when exercising in the heat. Heat combined with dehydration can be a dangerous combination, so when exercising in extreme heat, make sure you are not losing too much water weight. Weigh yourself pre and post training. As a general rule, for every pound of water weight lost during a workout, drink 16 ounces of water post workout.
While this may seem complicated, staying hydrated is really quite simple. Try to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, and then as soon as you start exercising, switch to something with electrolytes to maintain proper hydration.