Looking for the best sources of electrolytes for runners? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s the truth.
Everybody knows that water is vital for both performance and overall health.
After all, the human body is roughly 80 percent fluid, which means that organs, tissue, and cell require water to function optimally.
But is a bottle of water all you need to keep your body hydrated?
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
You also need electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, to run at your best.
Here’s the truth.
Electrolytes, the electrically-charged minerals like potassium, sodium, and the rest, are key for keeping your body functioning like a well-oiled machine.
So what are electrolytes, and how do you get enough of these all-important minerals? Keep on reading
In today’s article, I’ll dive deep into the electrolytes, their importance, their roles, and how to get enough minerals.
Let’s get started
What Are Electrolytes
If you have experienced muscle cramps or been severely dehydrated during a long run, chances you’ve already run into what it’s like to be out of electrolytes.
So what are they anyway?
Electrolytes are the umbrella term for substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water, carrying either a positive or negative charge. They’re key for the function of the nervous, cardiac, muscular, and digestive systems.
Electrolytes are crucial to several biochemical processes—from allowing muscles to contract, keeping the body well hydrated, regulating heartbeat, etc.
They’re found in blood, tissues, urine, and other body fluids.
Keeping these essential electrolytes balanced is vital for optimum performance and successful training, especially if you run a lot.
Essential electrolytes for runners include sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), and calcium (Ca 2+).
The Major Electrolytes
The main electrolytes include:
- Sodium (Na+) – helps keep fluid balance within the body
- Calcium (Ca 2+) – Helps regulate heartbeat and aid in muscle contraction, bone and tooth strength
- Potassium (K+) – Assist in muscle contraction, impulse conduction, acid-base regulation, and heartbeat regulation
- Magnesium (Mg 2+) is key for various chemical reactions within your body, such as supporting muscle contractions, regulating heart rate, conducting nerve impulses, etc.
- Phosphate (PO4 2-) is key for bone and teeth strength and energy production for cellular repair and growth.
- Chloride (Cl-) – Helps maintain a balance of fluids on the inside and outside of the cells.
- Bicarbonate (HCO3) is essential for regulating the heart and keeping a healthy pH.
You might only need four major electrolytes to maintain your body’s fluid balance, which consists of potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
The Importance of Electrolytes For Runners
Exercising hard, long, and very often? Keeping your electrolytes balanced is essential for optimum performance and successful training, regardless of your goals.
Let me explain.
Like any other compound in your body, electrolytes should stay within a specific range for optimal health.
You’ll suffer from various negative symptoms if you lose too many electrolytes.
These may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle cramping
- Appetite loss
- Visual disturbance
Note – Expect to come down with more serious symptoms in extreme cases.
Experience two more of these symptoms? It could be an electrolyte imbalance. If symptoms persist for more than an hour, it’s key to seek medical attention. Beware of the shock risk. Better be safe than sorry.
The Roles Of Electrolytes
Electrolytes are essential not only during running but also throughout your everyday life.
These are key for every bodily system, including the cardiac, digestive, muscular, and nervous systems.
Here are some of the primary functions of electrolytes:
- Moving nutrients into the cell
- Moving waste out of the cells
- Regulating hydration levels
- Balancing the body’s acid/base (pH) level
- Ensuring cardiovascular and neuromuscular function
For more on the science and importance of electrolytes for runners, check the following resources:
- Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery
- Electrolyte supplements don’t prevent illness in athletes
- Are electrolytes important for athletes?
- Effects of Electrolyte Supplements on Body Water Homeostasis and Exercise Performance during Exhaustive Exercise
- The Effects of Sports Drinks During High-Intensity Exercise on the Carbohydrate Oxidation Rate Among Athletes
- Habits of fluid and electrolytes intake in elite athletes
- Rehydration during Endurance Exercise: Challenges, Research, Options, Methods
Enter The Deficiencies
Essential electrolytes are lost in sweat when running, including potassium and sodium.
Regular and mild sweating poses no threat—when you profusely sweat—typically when running in the heat for too long—you should start worrying.
These deficiencies contribute to muscle cramps and could ruin your performance on your next run.
Depending on what sort of electrolyte imbalance occurs, experts suggest that various issues, such as stomach cramps and side stitches, can also be blamed on such deficiencies.
These include :
- Fluid retention
- Achy joints
- Decreased urine output
- Chest pain
- Confusion or erratic behavior
- Irregular heartbeat
Does Having Plenty of Water Helps?
Replenishing your electrolyte needs by drinking a lot of water alone isn’t enough.
It can be quite unproductive since water has a neutral pH.
In extreme cases, having too much water without adequate electrolytes can force sodium levels to drop to dangerous levels, leading to hyponatremia. This is a condition where sodium levels in the blood drop too low, causing all types of complications.
For these reasons, and some, maintaining balanced electrolytes is key for both performance and health.
I cannot emphasize this enough.
The Factors That Impact Electrolyte Loss
Many variables impact how much electrolytes you lose while running.
Losses vary for each runner, and sweating from training isn’t the only culprit behind electrolyte loss.
The main factors include the following:
- Sweating: Sweating is the main mechanism by which your body loses electrolytes. So you might sweat more than others. You’re at greater risk for electrolyte imbalances if that’s the case.
- Temperature: Running in the hot weather increases your fluid losses through sweat, and training in the cold may limit your body’s ability to pay attention to rehydrating since you won’t be sweating as much.
- Running duration and intensity: Logging endless miles means you’ll need to take in more water more frequently to stay hydrated.
- Altitude: Training at altitude boosts your fluid losses, thus, increasing your electrolyte needs.
Some individual factors that also have a say include:
- Fitness level
- Hydration status
- Body size and composition
- Clothing is worn during exercise
- Medical issues
- Previous conditioning history
For these reasons (and some more), if you’re highly active—as in log 20+ miles per week plus cross-training—consider supplementing with electrolytes needs—or at the very least, pay attention to your daily electrolyte intake.
Additional resource – Side stitch when running
How Many Electrolytes Do Runners Need?
If you don’t exercise that much but follow a healthy and well-balanced diet, you might already be getting enough electrolytes from your food.
But that might not be the case if you like to run hard and/or long, especially in hot weather and high humidity.
Still not convinced?
Here’s how much mg the average person loses in one liter of sweat:
- 900 mg of sodium
- 200 mg of potassium
- 15 mg of calcium
- 13 mg of magnesium
That’s quite a lot.
What you Need
The most common electrolyte losses in sweat during training are chloride and sodium, with less significant amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Sodium chloride, or what’s often referred to as Salt, is key as it helps keep fluid balance and nerve function, which regulates muscle contraction. During training, you can lose up to 1,000 milligrams per hour.
Most electrolyte tablets pack around 200 to 800 milligrams of it to get back some of the Salt lost through sweat.
Additional reference – Stop peeing while running
How To Get Enough Electrolytes
How to consume enough electrolytes, you ask?
Most people—especially runners—want to know the answer to this question after dealing with one or many of the abovementioned issues.
Luckily, the answer is not that complicated.
All you have to do is to consume real food.
Right now, you might be thinking—but what about popular sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade?
I won’t deny it.
These drinks serve a purpose—but I won’t recommend them for the typical recreational runner.
You might be doing more harm than good if you’re reaching for sports drinks instead of real food to replenish your electrolyte reserves.
Most sports drinks contain sugars, artificial colors, and harmful chemicals.
I don’t think sports drinks are the best approach unless you’re an endurance athlete.
Instead, the best way to replenish electrolytes lost while running is through real food.
Electrolyte-rich veggies include s beans, spinach, potatoes, and lentils, while good fruit sources include avocado, coconuts, raisins, bananas, and dates.
So, unless you log countless miles a week, you should stick to plain water and a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Opt for something low in sugar if you’re planning to run for a long time and want to drink a sports drink.
Or you can also make your sports drink by following the simple formula shared in this YouTube tutorial.
Your body will thank you!
The Best Sources Of Electrolytes For Runners
Here are the most critical electrolytes for runners and how to get enough of them.
Sodium is the electrolyte you lose the most while sweating.
Also known as sodium chloride—or common table salt—this electrolyte helps regulate body fluids (so you don’t get dehydrated fast), muscle and nerve function, and control acid-base balance and blood pressure.
The good news is most people, including recreational runners, get sufficient, if not too much, sodium in their diets.
That said, if you do any endurance training, running longer than 90 minutes per session, it’s key to replace this electrolyte afterward.
The recommended intake: is no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day.
- Salt: 1 tablespoon contains 2300 mg of sodium.
- Pickles: 1 cup contains 1800 of sodium.
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body, with roughly 98% of it stored within your cells.
Proper levels of potassium are essential for supporting muscle contraction and heart function and play a role in nerve transmission
Not only that, but these electrolytes also promote glycogen storage and facilitate the transport of nutrients.
We don’t burn off lots of potassium, even during intense training.
That’s why running low on potassium is relatively rare, as the body stores enough of it.
It’s also easy to get enough from everyday diet.
The recommended intake of potassium is 4700 mg per day.
- Apricots: 1 cup contains 1,500 mg of potassium.
- Sweet potato: 1, backed, contains 700 mg of potassium.
- Beet greens, 1 cup cooked, contains 1200 mg of potassium.
- White beans: 1 cup, canned, contains 1100 mg of potassium.
- Bananas:1 medium contains 400 mg of potassium.
- Tomatoes:1 medium 300 mg of potassium.
- Tomato soup: 1 cup contains roughly 400 mg of potassium.
Almost every function in the human body requires this essential electrolyte.
Magnesium contributes to muscle and nerve function, maintains blood sugar levels, improves immune functions, and promotes the function of some enzymes.
It’s also vital in regulating heart function and healthy blood pressure.
Magnesium deficiencies are rare, but when they hit, they can result in symptoms ranging from muscle weakness and drowsiness to numbness and hallucination.
The recommended intake: is 420 mg of magnesium per day for men and 320 mg for women.
- Almonds: 1 ounce, dry roasted, contains 80 mg of magnesium.
- Spinach: 1 cup contains 160 mg of magnesium.
- Cashews: 1 ounce, dry roasted, contains 74 mg of magnesium.
- Swiss chard: 1 cup contains 150 mg of magnesium.
- Peanuts: 1 ounce, oil roasted, contains 63 mg of magnesium.
- Soymilk: 1 cup contains 60 mg of magnesium.
- Black beans: 1 cup, cooked, contains 120 mg of magnesium.
- Peanut butter: 1 tablespoon contains 25 mg of magnesium.
Calcium is the most abundant electrolyte in the human body.
This one is not only key for strong bones and teeth but many other functions such as:
- Regulating muscle movements
- Managing nerve impulses
- Preventing blood clots
- Assisting with muscle contraction.
- Supporting the nervous system function.
The calcium needs depend on age, training intensity, and other factors.
The recommended intake: is 1000 to 1300 mg of calcium per day.
- Skim milk: 1 cup contains 300 mg of calcium
- Butter milk: 1 cup contains 300 mg of calcium
- Cottage cheese: 1 cup contains 600 mg of calcium
- Sour cream: 1 cup contain 130 mg of calcium
- Yogurt: 1 cup contains 450 mg of calcium
- Almonds: 1 contains 385 mg of calcium.
- Spinach: 1 cup, cooked, contains 245 mg of calcium.
Elites With High Mileage
Most likely, if you run for less than an hour—especially at a slow pace—your electrolyte losses are negligible. So water might be all you need.
However, if (1) you run more than an hour, (2) train in really hot weather, or (3) are a heavy sweater, you should consider electrolyte supplements.
Let me explain more.
When it comes to electrolyte tablets, you got many options.
But I’d recommend Salt stick Electrolyte Capsules—preferably the non-caffeinated version—every 30-45 minutes during training.
This is more important if you’re living in a humid state and doing long runs regularly.
These electrolyte tablets pack lots of calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, potassium, Sodium, and Vitamin D3.
If you’re looking for something quick and tasty, and sports drink might be what you need.
Sure, you can always choose electrolytes drinks like Powerade and Gatorade, but keep in mind that these pack in a lot of sugar and might cause cravings —I won’t recommend them.
Make Your Own
If you’ve more time on your hands, I’d recommend making your own electrolytes drinks at home.
Yes, you heard that right. You can make your own sports drinks in the comfort of your home and use your ingredients. It is a simple and healthier choice.
Here are a few of my favorite recipe
When To Take Electrolyte Supplements While Running
In my experience, the best time to take electrolyte supplements is before you start, especially if you’re doing a very long run in the heat.
Next, during your workout, you can either sip an electrolyte-rich drink or take another tablet as you go. Again, you aim to keep your body balanced from start to finish.
When To See A Doctor
Consult a doctor or a physician immediately if you’re coming down with severe dehydration symptoms, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke.
Hyponatremia is another dangerous condition and the most common problem that requires immediate medical attention, sometimes as far as getting an IV line.
The main symptoms include severe headache, confusion, swelling of the hands and feet, and vomiting.
Proceed with caution.
During your medical visit and check-up, get answers to some of the following questions:
- How much water to drink each day?
- How much water to drink when running?
- What’s the best to stay well hydrated?
- Do I have any existing conditions that make me prone to electrolyte imbalances?
Best Electrolytes For Runners – The Conclusion
If you’re looking for practical advice on getting enough minerals and electrolytes while running, this post should set you on the right path. The rest is just details.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
Thank you for stopping by.