Why Do Runners Need Electrolytes? In the last several years, more research has gone into fueling. How are they helping runners run better? A few decades ago, people fueled by water alone!
To understand fueling, you must first understand an electrolyte and why do we need them? Are more electrolytes better?
So First, What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when they are mixed with water. Some of the many things they do include regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue. Obviously at minimum runners need electrolytes to stay hydrated and run their best.
What are the Major Electrolytes?
- Calcium: controls nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and bone density.
- Magnesium controls hundreds of biochemical reactions, nerve function, muscle function, and bone function.
- Sodium: controls fluid level control, regulation of all other electrolytes, nerve function, muscle function.
- Chloride: controls fluid level control and regulates the charge of fluids.
- Phosphate: balances calcium, energy production, bone function, and strength
- Bicarbonate: is a buffer of acidity/pH.
- Potassium: controls muscle function and nerve function.
- Zinc: helps with wound healing, protein formation, Immune system function.
Runners also need minor electrolytes, but you can get them from a healthy diet most of the time. These include zinc, iron, manganese, molybdenum, copper, and chromium. (Although many people don’t get enough iron).
There isn’t an electrolyte that is most important for runners, but it’s important to maintain a balance of all of them.
So How Do Electrolytes Tie into Hydration? Why do runners need electrolytes too?
Our body is made up of 60% water. Water is required to do almost everything we do include breathe, metabolize food, and pump blood.
For our bodies to perform well, water is drawn in and out of tissues from the bloodstream and organs. The attraction of charged electrolytes does it. Generally, a concentrated electrolyte will move into a diluted area. This means that water generally follows electrolytes, and electrolytes help move water flow through your body.
What are a few benefits of runners using electrolytes?
Electrolytes help prevent muscle cramping, but they go beyond that. A few more electrolyte deficiency symptoms include leg cramps, dry mouth, muscle weakness, stiff and achy joints, nausea, constipation, dizziness, and fatigue. Even chronic cases of diarrhea, congestive heart failure, or severe blood pressure problems can occur.
How do you know how much electrolyte supplement you need?
All runners need electrolytes, but the amount of electrolytes a runner needs drastically depends on your diet and exercise activity. Active runners need to consume 3-6 grams of sodium daily. A general rule is to consume 2 extra grams of sodium an hour. If you are a “salty sweater,” consume more.
Many runners don’t consider that we also need about 20% more magnesium and potassium, and calcium. If you are looking to calculate your own hydration needs, there are plenty of apps but keep in mind they don’t understand YOU. These apps take into account runners need electrolytes but don’t take into account your personal individual needs.
While wearables and health tracker apps are extremely helpful, what they can’t do is understand your body’s aches, pains, genetic makeups, and personal preferences. Only you can do that, and it always helps to have more information.
Runners need electrolytes, but we definitely aren’t the only ones. Whether you are running or not, electrolytes play a key role in your life.
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Questions for you:
Do you intake enough, electrolytes?
What is your favorite electrolyte product?