What are electrolytes?
Simply put, electrolytes are electrically charged minerals or molecules in your body. The most common electrolytes, found in the highest concentration, are sodium, potassium and chloride. Other key electrolytes include calcium and magnesium.
What do they do?
Your body uses electrolytes to maintain fluid balance and help with nerve and muscle function. But when you sweat you lose electrolytes – sodium and potassium in particular. This can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches and – due to temporary impaired nerve function – numbness. That’s why it’s so important to replenish your electrolytes when you practise Bikram Yoga.
How to replenish lost electrolytes
1. Drink plenty of mineral-rich, filtered water to help maintain electrolyte balance in the body. Purified water, which removes all of those good-for-you minerals, should be avoided. Read more about healthy hydration here.
2. While some commercial sports drinks are designed to replace lost electrolytes in the body, they’re often highly acidic and full of sugar; in other words, not all that good for you. Instead of reaching for a sugary sports drink, add an electrolyte-replacement product like Emergen-C to your water.
3. Coconut water is also a good way to replace lost electrolytes. It’s loaded with five key electrolytes: potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium and calcium. In fact, coconut water contains up to 15 times more potassium than commercial sports drinks. It’s also readily absorbed by your body, which means it can be converted into energy quickly.
4. Eat more fruits and vegetables in order to increase your potassium levels: lemons and other citrus fruits, bananas, cantaloupe, grapes, apricots and berries. Magnesium, meantime, can be found in foods like spinach, potatoes, black eyed peas, black beans, rice and avocado. For sodium try bell peppers, celery, leaf lettuce, radishes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, honeydew and pineapple – but the best source of sodium is sea salt.
5. We asked Bikram Yoga Vancouver teacher Roxana M., who has a medical background, about sodium replacement. “Often sodium is shunned because so many people over-consume it in the current North American diet, and too much sodium has its unhealthy consequences,” she says. “Most diets recommend sodium to be limited to 1,200 to 2,400 mg per day, but sodium-sensitive individuals – whether due to high blood pressure, kidney disease or other issues – might have even lower recommendations.
“However, high-performance athletes and any of us sweating profusely need to replace sodium as much as the other essential electrolytes. On average, it’s been measured in athletes that each litre of sweat has about 1,000 to 2,000 mg of sodium in it! Many athletes measured lose up to a litre of sweat per hour – I’m assuming not in the heated conditions we experience in Bikram Yoga. I personally sweat some serious litres, so if I limit my sodium to 2,000 mg, I’m only replacing the minimum and not what I’ve sweated, so I begin to cramp.
“Sodium and potassium are both critical in nerve impulse conduction and muscle contraction. Replacing sodium is important for performance and safety. It’s the quantity that will vary enormously from person to person in the room. If you look at people’s towels and the enormous variety of how much people sweat, you’ll know what I mean.”
Watch for Roxy’s Teacher Profile next week, with more tips about electrolytes. Meantime, tell us your favourite way of replacing lost electrolytes in the comments below!