Electrolytes and fluid intake are two concepts that are tightly linked in most people’s minds, and it’s true that drinks like Electrolyte Recovery Plus can improve your mineral and fluid balance. But drinks aren’t the only way you can increase your electrolyte intake, and in some cases, drinks may not even be the best way. Before we dive in, let’s review what electrolytes are and what they do.
If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night with leg cramps, gotten a stitch in your side while running, or had an epic headache, the likely culprit is an imbalance of electrolytes.
What do electrolytes do?
Electrolytes cause electrical impulses to be transported in your body through tissues like nerves and muscles and the brain. The cells in your body use these impulses as triggers for actions, like moving or relaxing a muscle, releasing a hormone, or forming a thought. The main electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. They are present in many whole, fresh foods, but often not in large amounts.
Are electrolytes in foods?
Primitive humans could get plenty of electrolyte minerals from their foraged plant and hunted animal foods, but modern industrial practices have reduced the nutrient bioavailability in many food sources, both plant and animal alike. Farms using regenerative practices are improving the quality of the soil, which therefore improves the quality and mineral content of foods produced on that land, but not everyone has access to these types of farms.
Nevertheless, we can absorb electrolytes from food sources. Food sources of electrolytes are absorbed more slowly than electrolytes from drinks, so these are the minerals that will keep you feeling great throughout the day. Electrolyte drinks are best for fast replenishment of electrolytes before a workout or lost during exercise or during sleep, where electrolytes from foods are best for ensuring you get a steady flow of these minerals though the day.
What happens when I don't get electrolytes?
The electrical spark that literally pushes you is provided by electrolytes. However, as you become dehydrated while exercising, your blood thickens as it loses water, your temperature begins to increase because not enough fluid is being produced to create more sweat to cool your body, and your heart begins to pump rapidly in an effort to keep up.
The key to getting electrolytes from food is choosing whole, fresh foods that are as organically produced as possible for your region and your budget. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, including the electrolyte minerals. Meats are high in many of them as well, especially lean meats. When choosing foods to maximize your electrolytes (and overall nutrition), aim for the least processed foods possible, since processing depletes much of the nutrition that we need to stay healthy.
Ready to find out which foods to focus on to get more electrolytes in your diet? Check these out!
15 Electrolyte-Rich Foods
Even better than ice cream, smoothies can incorporate multiple fruits and vegetables with protein and additional electrolyte powder for a powerful nutritional boost to your diet. Try a handful of berries, dark leafy greens, and your favorite vanilla non-dairy milk for a low calorie way to meet your electrolyte and hydration needs and load up on dozens of plant-based vitamins. Try a smoothie bowl too! Make a thick smoothie and pour it in a bowl, then top it with nutrient-packed toppings like chia seeds, nuts, or berries.
Raw Veggie Juices
If a thick smoothie isn’t your new favorite thing, try raw vegetable juice! Veggie juices are overflowing with vitamins and minerals, including the all-important electrolytes. One of the great things about vegetable juices is that they’re low in sugar. You can make them with virtually any vegetables you like, and options like dark leafy greens, celery, carrots, and cucumbers are popular. Add in just enough fruit for flavor, and you’ve got a deeply hydrating and nutritious drink.
Contrary to popular opinion, our bodies require a specific amount of salt for optimal health. Although we shouldn't consume too much sodium, we do need some. Simply stay away from highly processed meals like fast food that have a lot of sodium added to them and choose alternatives that are more natural. Try using unprocessed sea salt or pink salt, and add it to your foods just before eating so you don’t lose any of the flavor through cooking. Listen to your taste buds: if you’ve salted something and it isn’t salty enough to your taste, add a little more.
The more beans you eat, the more electrolytes you'll have. Beans, including lima beans, kidney beans, soybeans, black, white, and pinto beans are healthy to consume on their own or added to salads, dips, or other dishes. Chickpeas count too!
This fermented soybean product can be baked or stir-fried to satiate your needs for calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. It’s a versatile protein source that can be added to many dishes.
Bananas are high in sugar, so use this hydrating food only on days when you’ve had a more intense workout. It’s great fuel for HIIT or cardio! Bananas are hydrating, portable, rich in electrolytes like potassium, and easy on the digestive system.
It’s right in the name, WATERmelon! This juicy fruit is deeply hydrating and rich in potassium. While it’s sweet, it’s a lower sugar fruit because of how much water it contains, along with other vitamins and minerals. For variety to accent the natural flavor or watermelon and to obtain some sodium before working out, try sprinkling some salt on top.
There are so many ways to prepare cucumber that it can be an easy way to get food-based hydration no matter what your tastes are! Cucumbers are packed with water, and also contain the electrolytes magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium. For a refreshing summer drink, try sliced cucumbers in chilled water or lemonade.
If you’ve been on a healthy way of eating for a while, you already know that celery is a great replacement for chips when you want to enjoy a tasty dip. But did you know they are full of more than just water? Celery is a good source of potassium as well as several vitamins, plus lots of fiber to keep digestion running smoothly.
Freshly squeezed orange juice is a nutritional powerhouse! Fill up on water, calcium, magnesium, and potassium by munching on orange slices or drinking fresh orange juice. Since this is another high sugar option, save this for intense workout days, and pair it with a protein source of your choice. Try mixing orange juice with vanilla protein powder for a pre-workout treat!
Try coconut water if you're searching for a quick and simple way to consume electrolytes without having to mix a smoothie or go to a juice bar. It tastes great, is hydrating, and is rich in minerals. It has more sugar than some other options, so save this for a workout day. For extra electrolytes during or after exercise, choose a brand of coconut water that is organic and is mindful of environmental impact.
Packed with more flavor and nutrients than traditional stock, bone broth is made from simmering the bones of meat animals to extract the vitamins and minerals. Bone broth is typically a bit darker and thicker than stock, and is ideal to drink warmed up on its own, or to make a soup out of. More and more grocery stores carry bone broth, and you can find it online as well as from local farms.
Nuts and Seeds
For a quick source of magnesium and phosphorus, munch on nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds (or their nut butter equivalents). Additionally, the protein can help you feel more energetic and ward off the need to snack on less healthy options.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of electrolytes and a potent hydrator because they can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water. They release their water and minerals slowly through digestion to keep you hydrated for several hours. Sprinkle them on toast or porridge, blend them into drinks or smoothies, or soak them in water to make your own hydrating gel drink.
Sure, they’re high in good fat, but that’s not all avocados are made of! Avocados are a tasty, heart-healthy fruit that you may eat plain, in your preferred dish, or in a salad. They are loaded with potassium and magnesium, two minerals that are severely lacking in most diets, and which have numerous functions in the body, including deeper sleep and muscle relaxation.
A healthy diet includes dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, and others. They are a great source for potassium, magnesium, and numerous mineral cofactors, which will improve the absorption of those nutrients. Incorporate as many greens as you can into your favorite dishes, such as salads or stir-fry bowls.
Far from being just a variant of everyone’s favorite tuber, sweet potatoes are delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals, and are an especially good source of potassium. They’re higher in carbs than some other foods, so eat in moderation, or incorporate them on days with a harder workout. To make them extra hydrating, try them in a vegetable-rich soup.
There are lots of reasons why you might not be getting enough electrolytes from food, from not being able to find ideal food sources, to being on the road without your usual ingredients. Make sure to keep your favorite flavors of Electrolyte Recovery Plus on hand for a quick and easy way to meet your daily electrolyte needs. Have one glass in the morning, ideally before your first coffee, and another if you’re having a workout that day. Electrolytes are the best way to avoid cramps and headaches, so make sure to focus on foods and drinks that keep you hydrated.