By: Steve Born (Edited by Neil Vallance)
Electrolytes are chemicals that form ions in body fluids. They help make sure specific bodily functions run at optimal levels, especially with regards to your cellular function. The focus is usually on how the muscle cells function (IE: cramping), but there are plenty of other cells that need to function properly such as your nerve cells, heart cells, brain cells, and all the cells that make up the digestive system. Electrolytes are analogous to the motor oil and other necessary fluids in your car—they don’t give power or energy to make the engine run, but they’re absolutely necessary to keep everything running smoothly....
South Africa has a wide selection of climates and environments to consider. Climbing high mountains in the Drakensberg, humid coastal areas in KZN, and hot and dry conditions in the Karoo means your electrolyte needs can vary much more than either caloric or hydration needs. Ideally, you will need to experiment with different protocols in a variety of conditions to find out what works for you. As we are still experiencing a Level 2 lockdown and there are very few events and races, now is the time to establish your best options.
Muscle cramping, though there are many theories as to why it happens, usually involves improper hydration and/or improper electrolyte replenishment. This becomes more obvious when you understand how electrolytes affect all the cells in the body. Cramping is a place far down the road of electrolyte depletion, and is a sign that will occur when your body is already low on electrolytes and other systems are already under stress. That’s precisely why you shouldn't wait for cramps to remind you to take electrolytes. Just as you shouldn’t wait until you bonk before you refuel, or you’re dehydrated before you replenish fluids.
WHAT ARE ELECTROLYTES? WHY DO I NEED THEM?
Electrolytes are chemicals that form electrically charged particles (ions) in body fluids. These ions carry the electrical energy necessary for many functions, including muscle contractions and transmission of nerve impulses. Many bodily functions depend on electrolytes. Optimal performance requires a consistent and adequate supply of these important nutrients.
Many athletes neglect consistent electrolyte replenishment because they've never had cramping problems. Even if you've been fortunate enough to have never suffered the painful, debilitating effects of cramping, you still need to provide your body with a consistent and adequate supply of electrolytes. Why? Because the goal in replenishing electrolytes is not so much to prevent cramping, but to maintain specific bodily functions at optimal levels.
CAN'T I JUST USE SALT TABLETS?
Salt tablets are an unacceptable choice for electrolyte replenishment for two reasons:
- They provide only two of the electrolytes your body requires - sodium and chloride. (EG: The oil and windscreen wiper fluid)
- They can oversupply sodium, thereby overwhelming the body’s complex mechanism for regulating sodium.
The body has very effective mechanisms to regulate and recirculate sodium from body stores. Excess sodium consumption interferes with or neutralizes these complex mechanisms by reducing the level of Aldosterone and increasing the level of Vasopressin. The change in Aldosterone will result in a greater loss of sodium, and the change in Vasopressin will cause the body to retain fluid. While ingesting large amounts of sodium may temporarily resolve a sodium deficiency, doing so substantially increases the risk of a number of other problems, including increased fluid storage in the form of swelling (edema) in the extremities.
Consequences also include elevated blood pressure, and in extreme cases, a potentially life-threatening condition called dilutional hyponatremia. All of these inhibit performance. If you've ever finished a workout or race with swollen hands, wrists, feet, or ankles, or if you have experienced puffiness under your eyes and around your cheeks, chances are your sodium/salt intake was too high.
The truth is that the human body needs only a small amount of sodium to function normally. We require a mere 500 mg of sodium each day, athletes maybe 2,000 mg. This is easily supplied by natural, unprocessed foods. The average athlete stores at least 8,000 mg of dietary sodium in tissues and has these stores available during exercise. In other words, you already have a vast reservoir of sodium available in your body from your diet, ready to serve you during exercise. In addition, your body has a highly complex and efficient way of monitoring and recirculating sodium back into the blood, which it does to maintain homeostasis. You do need to replenish sodium during exercise, but you must do so with amounts that cooperate with, and do not override, these complex body mechanisms. This is one of the reasons why Hammer Nutrition use the slogan #lessisbest!!!
THE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF HIGH SODIUM
Not only are high-sodium diets bad for your health, but those who consume large amounts of sodium in their diet are guaranteed greater sodium loss rates and will require greater sodium intakes during exercise. Sodium, as you probably know, drives thirst, and thirst drives drinking until excess results is definitely not a performance-enhancing scenario.
DON'T I NEED TO REPLACE WHAT I SWEAT OUT?
It's easy to formulate a product that matches one of the many perspiration analysis studies and then sell it on the basis that athletes simply need to replace what they lose. Some products do just that. Unfortunately, there's a problem with this because individual sweat-loss differences vary greatly, and the human body does not and cannot efficiently replace what it expends during exercise at any intensity above a walking pace. Electrolytes lost are not replaced by electrolytes consumed in the moment.
The body is able to replace, at best, only about one-third of what it loses during exercise. This is true for fluids, calories, and electrolytes. As mentioned, if you try to replace all the fluids at once, you may end up with dilutional hyponatremia (overly diluted blood sodium levels) or water intoxication. If you attempt to replace all the fuel you expend, your stomach will back up in total rebellion, and refuelling will grind to a halt. Likewise, if you try to replace in equal amounts all of the electrolytes you lose, a number of hormonal triggers may create all sorts of problems such as gastric distress, edema, muscle spasms, and cramping. The key to successful fuelling (fluids, calories, and electrolytes) is to NOT focus on what you lose, but rather on how much your body can effectively accept and absorb.
PRE-LOADING SODIUM PRIOR TO A RACE? BAD IDEA!
One practice now being considered, and even adopted by many athletes, is to increase sodium in the diet by pre-loading three to four grams, or 3000 to 4000mg, of sodium about 12 to 24 hours before the race. We adhere to the principle of limiting sodium that is currently medically recommended since research supports that chronic consumption of more than 2,300 milligrams per day may contribute to congestive heart failure (CHF), hypertension, muscle stiffness, edema, irritability, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), liver disorders, ulcers, and cataracts.
Our position is that over 2,300 mg/day results in harmful consequences to health proportionate to predisposed individual sensitivity, while a large majority of the human population reacts negatively to >5,800 mg/day. Keeping sodium intake levels between 1,500-2,300 mg/day will support sodium requirements without taxing the aldosterone pathway or the kidney organ's role in homeostasis. Salty foods and/or salt tablets will not cut it when it comes to electrolyte replenishment. Instead, adopt a low-sodium approach that emphasizes a balance of essential minerals that cooperatively enhance the body's natural hormone and enzyme actions. You want a product that will provide comprehensive electrolyte support without compromising internal regulation.
SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER? HOW SHOULD I REPLENISH ELECTROLYTES?
Proper electrolyte replenishment during endurance exercise requires a gradual, consistent approach that incorporates all of the electrolytes in amounts that do not override normal body mechanisms. Remember, electrolyte intake needs to be below systemic detection, yet help alleviate systemic depression. This means that you need to consume enough to support body functions and prevent heat-related issues such as cramping without overwhelming your body. Electrolyte intake must slip under the body's radar detection system while still providing optimal support.
Hammer Nutrition have a variety of options for your electrolyte needs. The foundation of all our electrolyte products can be found in the unique Endurolytes formula which creates full-spectrum electrolyte products containing 6 electrolytes, designed to fulfill the body's electrolyte requirements. They are designed to counter the effects of hyperthermia, optimize specific bodily functions, and enhance endurance performance, especially beyond the two-hour mark. The electrolyte profile of the Endurolytes formula balances cations (positively charged ions) and anions (negatively charged ions) responsibly without emphasizing one electrolyte over others. This is a key note to remember: When a balance of electrolytes of cations to anions are managed in the energy producing cell, assuming the cell has adequate fuel and fluid, such a cell will produce energy at a higher rate than one overdosed by a single cation mixed with an irrational list of anions. Endurolytes contains chelated minerals which means the minerals are more bioavailable and provide greater absorption when compared to non-chelated minerals. The Endurolytes formula creates the basis for the following products:
- Endurolytes capsules: 1-3 per hour.
- Endurolytes Extreme: 1-2 per hour.
- Endurolytes Fizz: 1 per 2 hours.
- Endurolytes Powder: 1-2 per hour.
- HEED; Carb drink with electrolyte support.
SO WHAT DO YOU FIND IN ENDUROLYTES?
SODIUM (Your oil), is the chief cation (positively charged ion) outside the cell. During endurance events, a minimum of three to four hours is necessary to deplete this mineral, which may result in symptoms of abnormal heartbeat, muscle twitching, and hypoventilation.
POTASSIUM (Your engine coolant), is the chief cation (positively charged ion) within all muscle cells. It is necessary for maintaining the optimal concentration and balance of sodium. Potassium deficiency symptoms are nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, cramping, and rapid heart rate.
CALCIUM (Your brake fluid), is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Normal heart rhythm, healthy nerve transmission, and strong muscle contractions require a constant blood calcium level. During exercise, calcium-dependent enzymes produce energy from fatty and amino acid conversion, providing 60-65% of your energy needs when exercise goes beyond two hours in length. When blood calcium runs low, the body extracts it from the bones, but this process can't keep up with your exercise depletion rate. Serum calcium deficiency during endurance events may produce high blood pressure, muscle cramps, and weakness.
MAGNESIUM (Your battery fluid), should accompany calcium at a ratio of 1:2. When calcium flows into working muscle cells, the muscle contracts. When calcium leaves and magnesium replaces it, the muscle relaxes. Many enzymatic reactions necessary for fuel conversion to muscular energy occur in the presence of adequate magnesium. Deficiency of magnesium contributes to muscle cramps, tremors, sleep disturbances, and in some cases, convulsive disorders.
CHLORIDE (Your windscreen wiper fluid), is the relative anion (negatively charged ion) that accompanies sodium. This electrolyte is absolutely necessary in maintaining the proper balance and consistency of body fluids and electrolytes. An appropriate amount of chloride (as sodium chloride) supports, but does not override, the function of the hormone aldosterone in regulating and conserving proper electrolyte levels.
MANGANESE (Your fuel additive), is included in Endurolytes as it is necessary in trace amounts for optimal muscle cell enzyme reactions for conversion of fatty acids and protein into energy. Manganese deficiency plays a key role in blood sugar fluctuation, free radical build-up from intense exercise, and nerve function disorders, especially in older athletes.
PYRIDOXINE HCL (vitamin B-6) is a coenzyme required in 60 enzymatic reactions involving the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. We include this water-soluble B vitamin in Endurolytes because of its active role in maintaining sodium-potassium balance.
L-TYROSINE is an amino acid added to the Endurolytes formula to protect thyroid and adrenal function. Blood plasma deficiency during extreme endurance events will lower thyroid and adrenal production, hindering the proper rate of metabolism. Symptoms of l-tyrosine depletion first appear as depression, later anger, then despondency that degenerates into total despair.
GLYCINE is an amino acid added to help neutralize the naturally salty/bitter taste of the mineral.