the science of electrolytes

Electrolytes by Symptoms and Suggested Intake


Sodium:  The main positively charged ion outside your cells. Important to note about this electrolyte is that diet alone cannot adequately replace this electrolyte after high intensity workouts. Sodium taken by itself without other electrolytes causes water retention which leads to swollen extremities like your hands, feet and ankles. Also during exercise your body notices electrolyte loss through your hormones. If you consume high amounts of sodium after you exercise without other electrolytes it disrupts the hormonal system and the bodies’ process to regulate itself.

Main Symptoms of Sodium Deficiency: muscle cramps and dizziness.

Recommended Normal Daily Intake of Sodium:  1500mgs

Potassium: The main positively charged ion within muscle cells that is responsible for regulating sodium levels within your body.  The proper level of potassium is essential for normal cell function. Among the many functions of potassium in the body are regulation of the heartbeat and the function of the muscles. A common misconception regarding Potassium is that it leads to muscle cramping, however the amount of Potassium in sweat is too small for this to be the case. Sodium is more likely to be the cause of this condition which then leads to electrolyte imbalance in individuals that have high losses of sodium through sweating. Endurance athletes are particular affected.

Main Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency: Muscle Weakness, Mental Confusion, Muscle Paralysis,

Recommended Normal Daily Intake of Potassium: 4700 mg

Chloride: The main negatively charged ion found in fluid outside of cells and in the blood. Its function is to help the body maintain a normal balance of fluids. The balance of Chloride is closely regulated by your body and large increases or decreases in this electrolyte can have serious consequences. Important to note is that athletes with kidney disease or adrenal gland conditions have a greater loss of chloride during competition.

Main Symptoms and Effects of Chloride Deficiency: Irregular Heartbeats, Changes in PH, Diarrhea, Kidney disease

Recommended Normal Daily Intake of Chloride: 2300mg

Magnesium: While this electrolyte is found mainly in your bones and in small quantities in your blood, every organ requires it to function normally. Its main purpose is to regulate the levels of other minerals in your blood such as potassium and calcium. Important to note is that while it regulates calcium in your fluids it also competes with it for absorption into your body. Too much Magnesium will restrict the absorption of calcium making it important that these electrolytes levels in your body be balanced. Please note that kidney disease greatly affects the level of absorption of this electrolyte.

Main Symptoms and Effects of Magnesium Deficiency:  Muscle Cramps, Nausea, Confusion

Recommended Normal Daily Intake of Magnesium: 320mg for Women and 420mg for Men

Calcium: The majority of calcium in the human body is found in your bones and the body moves calcium out of the bones and into your blood as needed to maintain you bloods electrolyte balance. Calcium plays a central role in both the synthesis and breakdown of muscle glycogen and liver glycogen. Blood calcium levels are tightly regulated by hormones at the expense of bones. Many do not realize that bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt thru the processes of resorption and formation. Its main function is the formation of teeth and bone, but it’s the rate of your muscle contractions, blood clotting and importance for a normal heart rhythm after exercising is what’s important for endurance athletes.

Main Symptoms and Effects of Calcium Deficiency: Osteoporosis, Osteopenia, Muscle Spasms

Recommended Normal Daily Intake of Calcium: 1000mg more for people over 50

How Electrolytes Regulated and an Advanced Look at the Symptoms

Electrolytes are positively or negatively charged ions which conduct electrical activity, allow for muscle contractions, neural activity and are vital for maintaining fluid balance. Electrolyte concentrations are regulated by the body by a process known as homeostasis. All living organisms depend on maintaining a complex set of interacting metabolic chemical reactions. From the simplest unicellular organisms to the most complex plants and animals, internal processes operate to keep the conditions within tight limits to allow these reactions to proceed. Homeostatic processes act at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the organ, as well as for the organism as a whole.

Sustained Release ElectrolytesThe human body manages a multitude of highly complex interactions to maintain balance or return systems to functioning within a normal range. These interactions within the body facilitate compensatory changes supportive of physical and psychological functioning. This process is essential to the survival of the person and to our species.

Fluid loss from sweat is the body’s main loss of electrolytes, especially sodium and chloride. Prolonged exercise leads to progressively greater losses of electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium.

Hyponatremia is low sodium concentration in the blood. Plasma sodium concentrations are usually in the range of 135 – 150 mmol/L, with mild hyponatremia (symptoms include muscle cramping, muscle weakness, loss of appetite) occurring below 135 mmol/L. Severe hyponatremia (plasma sodium below 130 mmol/L) is associated with confusion, nausea, headaches, and potentially fatal cerebral edema.

Cerebral edema is excess accumulation of fluid in the intracellular or extracellular spaces of the brain. Cerebral edema can result from brain trauma or from non-traumatic causes such as ischemic stroke, cancer, or brain inflammation.  Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, faintness, and in severe cases, seizures and coma.

Cerebral edema has occurred in greater frequency in endurance athletes who compete for greater than 4 hours while consuming large quantities of fluid which exceed sweat and urine loss.  Fluid replacement (rehydration) is limited by blood concentrations of sodium, which must be restored in order to achieve full fluid balance.

Greater volumes of fluid replacement (> 6% body weight) take many hours to achieve full fluid/electrolyte homeostasis, up to 4 hours after your first full meal. Although electrolytes can be replaced by eating salty foods, electrolyte supplements are useful for rapidly restoring the fluid/electrolyte balance.

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