If you're sweating a lot during an intense training session, you're losing more than just fluid. Sweat carries away significant amounts of fluid and electrolytes, primarily sodium and potassium. It also takes with it less-celebrated electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and chlorine. Drinking more water will jump-start the rehydration process, but it's also crucial to recharge with electrolytes—in fact, drinking water alone can further dilute the electrolytes in your cells. Staying topped up with adequate amounts of both will help ensure you maximize your performance every workout.
WHAT ARE ELECTROLYTES?
While many know electrolytes are important, you may not know what they do. These crucial minerals, found in the blood, carry electrical charges that help keep processes like nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and fluid, running smoothly. Keeping electrolytes balanced is essential to maintain normal healthy functioning of the heart, brain, and kidneys, as well as how your muscles function (1). As a bodybuilder or serious lifter, your goal should be to achieve the highest quality of muscle contraction on every rep of every set. Here’s what you need to know about three key electrolytes—sodium, potassium, and magnesium—to get the most from your lifts in the gym.
Sodium has gotten a bad rap over the years but the truth is, this mighty little electrolyte is critical to proper fluid balance and muscle contractions. Although a diet laden with highly processed food has been shown to negatively affect blood pressure and cardiovascular health, for athletes, sodium is necessary to ensure optimal muscle function (1). Sodium, in conjunction with potassium, allows our muscles to communicate with the nervous system and generate movement via muscle contractions. Together with key kidney-controlling hormones like aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), sodium also helps us maintain water balance and normal healthy blood pressure. Without manipulating the amount of salt in the blood, our body cannot regulate how much fluid is pulled into the bloodstream to maintain blood pressure or adapt to the changes in blood pressure created by exercise.
Faceoff: Table Salt vs Himalayan Sea Salt—What’s the Difference?
So, where do we get sodium and what's the best source? Sodium is generally consumed naturally from the foods we eat daily. Many processed foods contain high levels of sodium as it acts as a preservative to extend shelf life. For most bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts, assuming you prepare meals yourself and don't rely on pre-processed foods, the foods you consume daily will likely contain very little sodium. Sodium intake usually gets a boost with the use of table salt or seasonings to make your meals more flavorful. Table salt (sodium chloride) has traditionally been the go-to salt of choice; however, there is growing evidence to support the use of pink Himalayan sea salt over the use of table salt. The reason for this is, for the same milligram dosage, both salts have similar sodium concentrations, but Himalayan salt has higher levels of other minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron that aid in many other physiological processes within the body (2).
Potassium is another critical electrolyte needed for muscular contraction. Have you ever suffered from a muscle cramp and been told to eat a banana? The reason behind this is that bananas are high in potassium and also give you magnesium and calcium, all of which help ease muscle cramps. Our body uses a balance of sodium and potassium to generate an electrical signal across nerve cells to connect our central nervous system (CNS) with different organs and muscles (3). It's these electrical messages that allow for your brain to tell your biceps, for example, to contract to perform a curl. Any disruption in this signaling process can lead to dysfunction in the muscle and result in muscle spasms or cramps.
Magnesium is an important but often overlooked mineral that aids in muscle function (4,5,6). Magnesium acts as a cofactor, meaning that it is a substance that aids in facilitating a biochemical reaction. Magnesium promotes calcium release in the muscle cell, which causes a cascade of events leading to muscular contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers (4,5,6). Deficiencies in magnesium have been shown to negatively affect skeletal muscle function, which can lead to reduced force output and cramping.
EXERCISE PERFORMANCE AND HYDRATION
During training, back-to-back muscular contractions are required to move the increasing loads placed on a given muscle or group of muscles. As you train, electrolytes are lost through sweat, which is further exasperated in high heat and humidity environments as your body works to cool itself down (7,8,9). When too many electrolytes are lost, your body suffers a state of dehydration. As your body becomes dehydrated, its ability to function optimally becomes hindered. As a result, it is not uncommon for dehydrated exercisers to experience decreased strength, endurance, dizziness, muscle cramps, and in severe cases, loss of consciousness (7,8,9). Long story short, if you are not able to maintain optimal electrolyte balance, your workout suffers, and so does your ability to build muscle.
SUPPLEMENTING WITH ELECTROLYTES
Supplementing with electrolytes has been shown to promote hydration, increase strength, improve endurance, and prevent muscle cramps (7,8,9,10). Hydration is a key regulator of your performance in the gym that is often overlooked. As serious lifters, you are clocking in the cardio miles and hitting the weights intensely almost daily, sometimes with little rest between training sessions. Incorporating products that contain electrolytes into your supplement regimen will help ensure that your body is ready for the next grueling training session and your muscle-building efforts are not wasted.
Hosstile remains focused on developing products that support your body's optimal functioning so you can perform at the highest level each and every workout. This attention to detail is why products like HOSSTILITY, INTRA[R3], and SILO have been formulated with key electrolytes to support maximum performance every time you step into the gym. These products contain added key electrolytes in the form of sodium, some of which is partially derived from pink Himalayan sea salt, magnesium, and potassium, to help to maintain adequate hydration and muscle function and allow for sustained performance in the gym.
- Adrogué H. J. , Madias N. E. (2012). The Challenge of Hyponatremia. Journal of American Society of Nephrology, 23 (7) 1140-1148.
- Kuhn T., Chytry P., Souza G.M.S., Bauer D.V., Amaral L., Dias J.F.. (2019). Signature of the Himalayan salt. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms.
- Medbø, J. I., & Sejersted, O. M. (1990). Plasma potassium changes with high intensity exercise. The Journal of Physiology, 421, 105-122.
- Potter, J. D., Robertson, S. P., & Johnson, J. D. (1981). Magnesium and the regulation of muscle contraction. Federation proceedings, 40(12), 2653–2656.
- Zhang, Y.; Xun, P.; Wang, R.; Mao, L.; He, K. (2017). Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients, 9, 946.
- Carvil P., Cronin J. (2010). Magnesium and Implications on Muscle Function, Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32 (1), 48-54
- Jung, A. P., Bishop, P. A., Al-Nawwas, A., & Dale, R. B. (2005). Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Journal of athletic training, 40(2), 71–75.
- Bergeron, M. F. (2008).Muscle Cramps during Exercise-Is It Fatigue or Electrolyte Deficit?, Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7(4), 50-55.
- Maughan, R.J., Shirreffs, S.M. (2019). Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining. Sports Medicine, 49, 115-124.
- Del Coso J., Estevez E., Baquero R.A., Mora-Rodriguez R. (2008). Anaerobic performance when rehydrating with water or commercially available sports drinks during prolonged exercise in the heat. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33, 290-298.