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What Electrolyte Supplements Really Do for Athletes
Are sports drinks and other electrolyte supplements more hype than hope for athletes? A leading electrolyte supplement drink’s lightning bolt logo has become an iconic symbol of the beverage’s electrolyte-rich formulation. Interestingly, the famous drink’s ingredients have always included sodium and potassium electrolytes.
Today, this brand is the official sports drink of various professional sports leagues, including the NFL. When watching sports online like football games between NFL teams, one may see players off the field or court drinking a sports drink to augment their energy levels.
While ads for sports performance beverages often highlight the need for athletes to replenish their electrolytes, the true advantages of the essential minerals may be ambiguous.
What Precisely Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals in the blood that may help regulate an ideal balance of body fluids. Common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chloride.
Do Athletes Need Electrolytes?
Most people only need water to stay hydrated during the day. However, athletes who conduct high-intensity exercises in excess of an hour may need to replenish calories and nutrients such as electrolytes. This process may enhance their athletic performance.
Sports drinks and energy drinks are popular options, although one should consider particular ingredients such as:
- Artificial additives
- Serving size
Higher caffeine intake may induce a diuretic effect, causing increased urination.
Athletes primarily lose electrolytes through perspiration. In some cases, they may lose them faster than their body can replenish them. Thus, the use of electrolyte supplements may be warranted.
In addition, urine contains high levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. This process removes excess molecules from the body.
We will examine some of the primary research-based benefits of electrolyte supplementation for athletes.
Benefit #1: Ensure Muscle Strength and Power
Amateur and pro athletes require electrolytes for the proper function of muscles. For example, calcium contracts muscles, while magnesium functions as a calcium-blocker by relaxing muscles after contraction.
Deficiencies or imbalances of the body’s types of electrolytes can result in cramps or fatigue.
A 2019 study published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition journal examined the effects of creatine and electrolyte supplementation on anaerobic power and strength. Researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind control study.
Scientists compared the effects of the multi-ingredient performance supplement (MIPS) with a placebo.
They conducted various pre-tests and post-tests involving a bench press and back squat preceding and following six weeks of the creatine and electrolyte supplementation.
The study included 22 subjects, including 16 males and six females. Subjects performed a one-repetition maximum (1RM) for bench press and back squat.
The researchers used 88% of the subjects’ pre-test 1RMs for a maximum repetition test to evaluate performance variables.
A MIPS dose was administered daily using a double-blind testing method.
The MIPS groups’ back squat 1RM demonstrated a notable increase of 13.4%, while the placebo showed a decrease of -0.2%.
The MIPS group also demonstrated a significant increase in mean power and concentric work for the bench press 1RM.
The study demonstrated that MIPS was beneficial to recreational weightlifters compared to a placebo.
Additional research is needed to determine if an electrolyte-only formulation may produce the same effects on muscle strength and power.
Benefit #2: Help Maintain the Nervous System
The brain signals the body through nerve impulses. It is generated through alterations in the electrical charge of the nerve cell’s membrane. Sodium and potassium manage the electrical charges.
Another study published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition journal examined the effects of a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution on cognitive tasks following exercise.
The research aimed to determine the effects of consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte pre-operative carbohydrate (CHO) solution on the subjects’ cognitive performance preceding exercise-induced hyperthermia.
The 12 participants completed cognitive tests in an environmental chamber, which included five cognitive tests performed following a 75-minute run on a treadmill.
Subjects consumed a 1ml/kg body mass of a 6.8% CHO solution or placebo during exercise and between cognitive tests following training.
All participants were hyperthermic following the run. The CHO ingested lowered the maximum span of digits memorized, contrasted with an increase in the maximum span with the placebo.
The CHO ingestion did not affect the performance of other cognitive tests.
The result suggests that the CHO consumption following exertional heat stress may impair short-term memory.
More studies are needed to evaluate the effects of consuming an electrolyte-only solution before exercise and cognitive tasks.
Benefit #3: Balance pH Levels
The body produces lactic acid during physical exercise. The electrolyte sodium bicarbonate neutralizes lactic acid and maintains a healthy potential hydrogen (pH) level. This process can prevent the toxicity of surrounding cells.
A randomized, double-blind trial published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition journal evaluated the effects of high-pH water on four biomarkers following exercise-induced dehydration.
The study included 100 healthy adults with no adverse health events. All subjects exercised in a warm environment to induce mild hydration.
The participants then used an electrolyzed high-pH water to rehydrate. Researchers subsequently evaluated various biomarkers.
The electrolyzed, high-pH water lowered high-shear viscosity among subjects by an average of 6.30%. This figure is compared to 3.36% with standard purified water.
More research is warranted on the effects of sodium bicarbonate supplementation on athletes’ pH levels.
Benefit #4: Hydration
Individuals often associate electrolytes with hydration. Electrolytes help balance the levels of water between the body’s cells, which can help prevent dehydration.
When a particular biological cell utilizes more water than others, this phenomenon creates an imbalance throughout an individual’s body. The body uses the process of osmosis to balance its levels of water.
The body cannot simply transfer water to where it is most drastically needed. Instead, a variance in the concentration of molecules is necessitated.
However, in some cases, all cells contain analogous levels of electrolytes.
Consequently, the water flows naturally from areas of high water concentration to areas of low water concentration. The process equalizes the concentration of molecules contained in water.
Water Intake and Electrolytes
Water and essential electrolytes are frequently absent from lists of crucial nutrients. However, these substances are critical components of daily diets.
Individuals should consume amounts of water greatly in excess of what the body produces through metabolism. Furthermore, one should attempt to avoid over-consuming and under-consuming electrolytes.
Health experts often recommend individuals consume between two or three liters of water daily. Athletes will require additional water due to dehydration during exercise.
Electrolytes are critical for athletes to maintain good health and enhance athletic performance.
Based on past research, adding electrolyte supplements to one’s daily diet is advisable if one engages in exercise regimens such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Sports drinks and electrolyte drinks, and powders may help athletes replenish exercise-induced electrolyte depletion.
Before athletes purchase electrolyte supplements, it is highly advisable to examine product labels. Avoiding products high in additives, such as artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners can help optimize the nutritional value of electrolyte supplements.
Furthermore, athletes should also consult with their physicians before taking any new dietary supplements. They can receive critical information such as possible drug interactions or allergic reactions.
- Electrolytes. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/16954-electrolytes
- Hydration for athletes https://familydoctor.org/athletes-the-importance-of-good-hydration/
- Creatine electrolyte supplement improves anaerobic power and strength: a randomized, double-blind control study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6534934/
- Creatine electrolyte supplement improves anaerobic power and strength: a randomized, double-blind control study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6534934/
- Effects of a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution on cognitive performance following exercise-induced hyperthermia in humans https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221684/
- Effect of electrolyzed high-pH alkaline water on blood viscosity in healthy adults https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0153-8
- Electrolytes. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002350.htm
- I’ve been seeing ads that say caffeinated drinks hydrate you as well as water does. Is this true? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/caffeinated-drinks/faq-20057965
- The sodium-potassium pump is an information processing element in brain computation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274886/
- Diffusion and osmosis https://bio.libretexts.org/Learning_Objects/Worksheets/Biology_Tutorials/Diffusion_and_Osmosis
- How much water should you drink per day? https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day