Is it getting hot where you live? Then you'll want to think about safety on the steamy, sweaty days. It's also very important if you're in a dry climate and may not notice how much you're sweating. When you or your family members are outdoors working, gardening, playing sports, at the pool or beach, the park, or anywhere else where you'll be exposed to heat, be aware of importance of electrolyte balance.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are mineral salts that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are sodium, chloride, potassium, phosphate, and calcium.
They have several jobs in your body. Electrolytes regulate:
Electrolytes must be in specific concentrations in your body in order for it to function properly. Sodium and chloride are predominantly found in the extra-cellular fluid (outside the cell), and potassium and phosphate are normally found within the cellular fluid. To maintain proper balance, your cells make frequent adjustments by moving electrolytes and water into or out of the cells.
Sodium and chloride are the body's principal electrolytes.
They play a huge role in fluid balance. They readily join together via chemical bonds to make salt (sodium chloride).
A deficiency in these electrolytes is called hyponatremia. It can be caused by:
This can occur if you're outside sweating for many hours, and in athletes, especially those involved in endurance sports such as marathon running. The symptoms can include: nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and in severe cases, coma.
Potassium is the most important dietary electrolyte.
A potassium shortage results in a lower level of stored glycogen (the storage form of blood-sugar in the muscles and liver). Glycogen is used by exercising muscles for energy, so a deficiency will produce fatigue and muscle weakness. Other signs are mental confusion, irritability, weakness, heart disturbances, and problems with muscle contraction.
The amount of potassium lost in sweat can be significant, especially in the heat. Athletes have higher potassium needs. Because up to 3g of potassium can be lost in one day of sweating, Dr. Michael Murray recommends a daily intake of at least 4 g of potassium.
The best food sources of potassium include legumes, potatoes, seafood, dairy, meat, many fruits and vegetables, and the most popular among athletes... bananas!
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