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Electrolyte Science

Before we start I want everyone to give me five good jumping jacks! Up and at ’em! Are you tired? Are you thirsty? Are you reaching for a sports drink? Do you know why? Keep reading!

We see so many popular athletes advertising Gatorade and other sports drinks that we assume they’re the best option for electrolyte replenishment after a hard workout. But the truth is, as with many packaged goods, that we can do far better with a few ingredients from our pantries!

First off, we should explore the word electrolyte. It’s tossed around all the time, but I have a feeling many of you don’t even know what it means, am I right?

Electrolytes are minerals that use electric charges in the body to produce reactions like muscle contractions, nerve movement, and a regular heartbeat. Which is to say, they are essential to physical activity. When we sweat we begin to lose some of these nutrients, particularly sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. How can we replenish those? 

Let’s look at Gatorade first. What’s inside? Mostly sugar, in fact it’s mostly bad sugar. Indeed, we need some sugar during and after a workout. Sugar is a carbohydrate (sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, fructose, etc) and those carbohydrates are consumes quickly and easily by a body in motion. We need them for energy. Our muscles consume glycogen, which is found in carbohydrates and easily consumed in simple carbohydrates (sugars). But if we consume too much, then they aren’t all used and some eventually turn into fat. Which is the opposite of what we want in a sports drink. In addition to sugar, Gatorade has some salt, and a little potassium. Overall, it’s not a great solution for serious athletes. 

How can we replace those specific nutrients at home? 

Starting with the sugar, we can use honey instead of plain white sugar. Honey has a natural mix of three sugars: glucose, fructose, and maltose, which all release into the bloodstream at slightly different rates. What does that mean for the athlete? It means you have a carbohydrate source that is naturally time-released. Much better for your system than the crash attack of white sugar (which will hit your blood all at once).

Salt is easy to replace, and we have such a great variety at our disposal these days. Instead of kosher salt or regular table salt, reach for sea salt, himalayan salt, or some other variety that contains other naturally occurring minerals. 

Potassium, calcium, and magnesium are a little harder to replace, but we’ve still got options. Starting with potassium, we can get that from oranges, lemons, and cucumbers alike. Pick your favorite flavor.

Magnesium is found mostly in nuts, seeds, dark leave greens, and fish. Which means it’s difficult to get into our quick drink. I like to take a spoonful of almond butter alongside my sports drink immediately upon returning home from the gym.

For some people, the easiest solution to these final three nutrients is to add a powdered supplement. You can find calcium-magnesium powders, potassium-magnesium powders, etc. at your vitamin store. Or you can use a powdered green supplement, which will add the nutrition of those dark leafy greens. 

The most important thing about any sports drink is that its bulk is made up of pure, refreshing, delicious H2O. Water is the base for everything that happens in our bodies, fill up a glass and have a sip right now!