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What Are Electrolytes and Why Do You Need Them?

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What Are Electrolytes and Why Do You Need Them?

Every human body needs electrolytes to stay alive, but what are electrolytes and why do you need them? Let's begin with the fundamentals. Electrolytes are connected to how your body functions at a basic level. They also impact hydration. If you've ever paid attention to a sports drink commercial, you've probably heard that you need electrolytes after an intense workout. Here's what you need to know about electrolytes. 

What Exactly Are Electrolytes?

According to Jonathan Waitman, MD, New York Presbyterian Hospital's medical director over specialized nutrition support, "Electrolytes are particles that have a positive or negative electrical charge. In the human body, electrolytes refer to essential minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium." 

An electrolyte is an element that directs electricity, but it must be diluted in water to do so. These elements are vital for several functions in the human body. A number of automatic body processes require a small electric current to operate. Electrolytes give them this charge. 

Electrolytes interact with one another as well as with the cells that are in your body's tissues, muscles, and nerves. For a body to operate as it needs to, it must have a combination of different electrolytes. 

common types of electrolytes

Basic Electrolyte Facts

  • Good sources of electrolytes include vegetables and fruits. 
  • Calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium are common electrolytes. 
  • People who are older are at a higher risk of developing an electrolyte imbalance. 
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What Do Electrolytes Do?

Electrolytes manage muscle and nerve function. They provide hydration for the body and balance its blood acidity levels as well as your blood pressure. Electrolytes also work to rebuild damaged tissue. 

Some experts refer to the muscles and neurons as the body's electric tissues. To operate, muscles and neurons need the electrolytes to move through the body's fluid inside, outside, and from cell to cell. 

For a muscle to contract, it needs calcium, potassium, and sodium. If these types of substances become imbalanced in your body, it may result in too much muscle contraction or general weakness. 

To transport electrical signals to other cells, body parts like your heart, nerve cells, and muscles need electrolytes. 

What You Need to Know About Electrolyte Imbalances

The electrolyte level in the blood can fluctuate between being too high or too low. When this happens, it causes an imbalance. Your body's electrolyte levels shift based on how much water you're retaining as well as several other factors. 

For instance, when you sweat during exercise, you lose important electrolytes like potassium and sodium. You can also lose them if you experience an immediate loss of fluids, such as when you vomit or suffer from an intense attack of diarrhea. 

You’ll need to restore the balance of electrolytes after an immediate loss of fluids. The body's kidneys and a few hormones manage the concentration of the electrolytes. If you have too much of one type, then your kidneys will eliminate it from your body. Then, different hormones work to reestablish balance. 

When your body experiences an electrolyte imbalance, it may result in a health problem. Health problems can arise whether your electrolyte levels are too high or too low. 

Sodium and potassium are the most common electrolytes that become imbalanced and cause health problems. For instance, if you eat a diet that's high in sodium but low in potassium, then you may develop high blood pressure. 

symptoms of electrolyte imbalance

What Are the Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalances?

The symptoms of an imbalance depend on the electrolyte that isn't at a proper level. It also depends on whether you have too much or too little of the electrolyte. 

If you have an imbalanced blend of magnesium, potassium, calcium, or sodium, then you could experience symptoms like: 

  • Weakness 
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Blood pressure changes 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Twitching 
  • Fatigue 
  • Convulsions 
  • Nervous system problems 
  • Bone disorders 
  • Seizures 
  • Confusion 
  • Numbness 

You may experience just one of these symptoms or several of them simultaneously. An excess of calcium can develop in those who have lung cancer, breast cancer, or multiple myeloma. An excess of calcium may occur due to bone tissue becoming damaged. 

There are several signs and symptoms of too much calcium. These include: 

  • Constipation 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • No appetite 
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Urinating frequently 
  • Thirst 
  • Dry mouth 

man with stomach pain

What Causes an Electrolyte Imbalance?

There are many causes of electrolyte imbalances. Along with losing fluids too quickly or becoming dehydrated following intense exercise, a poor diet may also result in an electrolyte imbalance. If your body experiences a disruption in its acid-base balance, then this may cause an imbalance, too. 

When Does Your Body Need Electrolytes?

Athletes and fitness fanatics should keep an eye on their electrolytes. However, if you've worked out for an hour or less, then your electrolyte loss should be minimal. To replenish them, make sure that you're drinking enough water. Drinking water regularly should also be enough to replenish the loss of electrolytes following longer workouts that don't cause you to sweat excessively. This may include strength training routines, a yoga session, or a long walk. 

Also, you shouldn't need to replace your electrolytes on rest days. On these days, drinking water will keep you hydrated. 

When does your body need electrolytes? Replenish your body with additional electrolytes when you perform an endurance-based exercise for more than an hour. You should also take in extra electrolytes when you work out in hot climates that cause you to sweat excessively. For instance, if you attend a 90-minute hot yoga class, then you'll probably need to replenish your electrolytes. 

If you generally sweat a lot, you might need to consider an electrolyte powder to replenish those lost during intense exercise. People who are heavy sweaters usually sweat through their clothes or develop chalky white areas on their skin after working out. 

If you need electrolytes and fail to replenish them, you may become dehydrated and suffer from fatigue. When this happens, you're likely to see a drop in your athletic performance. 

At Key Nutrients, we offer hydration capsules and keto electrolyte powder that makes it easy to stay hydrated with essential electrolytes. 

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Will Electrolytes Help Your Athletic Performance?

When you take in electrolytes without needing them, they probably won't increase your performance. However, it is important for you to have enough stored in your body to make sure that you can perform your best and feel good while doing it. 

Professional athletes lose electrolytes when they sweat, and if they wind up with a negative electrolyte balance, this can impact their overall hydration. Dehydration can cause you to feel tired, make you feel as though your workout is harder than usual, and diminish your exercise performance. This is why it's vital to replenish the electrolytes that you lose when working out or competing. 

How Much Needs to Be Replaced?

There's not an exact answer to how many electrolytes you need to replace when you sweat heavily because people's sweat rates are specific to them. 

Some people lose as much as a pound of sweat when they work out in a hot space for an hour while others barely break a sweat under the same conditions. Also, workout conditions vary, which means that they'll likely impact how much you sweat. 

You can estimate your sweat rate to figure out how much you perspire during a workout. Use this to determine the amount of fluid that you need to ingest while you're exercising. 

According to some estimates, humans lose about 500 milligrams of sodium for every one pound of sweat that they emit, but this is a rough estimate. When you start planning how to replace electrolytes, focus on your body and how it feels when you stress it physically. This is better than trying to figure out an exact measurement. 

One way to check your electrolytes is to review the shade of your urine. If it appears to be a light yellow, then your body is properly hydrated with enough electrolytes. If your pee is a dark shade of yellow, you are likely dehydrated and need more of them. Feeling dizzy or extremely tired are other signs of dehydration as are a headache or muscle cramps. 

Foods That Contain Electrolytes

If you experience a mild bout of dehydration, then you can treat it with fruit juice or tea. You can get the electrolytes that you need from a sports drink or other type of supplement like the ones available from Key Nutrients. 

You will also find electrolytes in food. In fact, the best source of electrolytes is a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. Let’s look at the essential electrolytes and what natural sources include them. 

fresh fruits and vegetables


It's common knowledge that calcium is the element that aids your body in keeping your bones healthy. It's estimated that about 99% of a body's calcium is stored in the bones. However, the remaining calcium in the body works as electrolytes. 

Calcium helps nerve function. It also assists with blood clotting, muscle contractions, hormone emission, and regular heart operations. If your body doesn't have enough calcium, it will remove it from your bones, which causes them to become weaker with time. 

Most adults require 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. There are foods that can give you at least 10% of the recommended calcium in just one serving. Some of these foods are: 

  • Dairy items like milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt
  • Leafy greens 
  • Figs 
  • Soy products 
  • Chia seeds 
  • Fortified orange juice 

Including one or more of these foods in your diet every day will help you eat a balanced diet. 


Sodium helps your body retain fluid, maintain blood volume, and manage blood pressure. The mineral also participates in nerve and muscle function. If you aren't getting enough sodium, then your blood pressure may decrease, or you could become dehydrated. 

Since Americans love their salty snacks, most people meet or exceed the amount of sodium that they need each day, which is 2,300 milligrams. But high-level fitness folks may lose a large amount of their sodium due to sweating. This means that ingesting 2,300 milligrams of sodium may not be enough. 

If you perform intense workouts regularly or sweat more than the average person, you might need to add a little more salt to your meals. Along with being present in salty snacks, sodium is also in packaged and canned foods as well as in beans and bread. 


Your body needs magnesium to help your muscles relax. This element also helps your muscles take in oxygen. It works to keep your heartbeat at a healthy pace and maintain overall muscle function. 

Women need around 310 to 320 milligrams of calcium every day while men need about 400 to 420 milligrams. If you don't get enough magnesium, you may feel more tired when you're working out. A lack of magnesium can cause muscle spasms as well as weakness. 

Good food sources of magnesium include: 

  • Spinach 
  • Quinoa 
  • Edamame 
  • Beans 
  • Lentils 


Potassium plays a major role in keeping your body hydrated. Your muscles also need it to contract. This includes your heart muscles and digestive muscles. It plays a big part in helping the heart function. Like the other electrolytes, being deficient in potassium can result in muscle weakness, muscle cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms. 

Human bodies need from 3,500 to 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day. The electrolyte is in: 

  • Oranges 
  • Bananas 
  • Winter squash 
  • Dairy 
  • Broccoli 
  • Potatoes 
  • Salmon 

Are There People Who Need More Electrolytes Than Others?

Anytime something causes you to lose fluids, you may need to supplement your electrolytes. If you exercise a lot, does this mean that you need to replenish your electrolytes every day? Not necessarily. Regular exercise doesn't warrant an automatic consumption of electrolyte-based sports drinks. 

As long as you keep yourself hydrated during your workouts and include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, you should get enough of the electrolytes that you need. If you're feeling tired, consider taking an electrolyte supplement. 

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Supplements Add Ease to a Busy Lifestyle

There are lots of ways to ensure that your body gets the electrolytes that it needs. For many people, life is busy, which makes eating a balanced diet challenging. When you're not able to eat the electrolytes that your body needs, you can get them by taking supplements. Find the electrolytes you need at Key Nutrients. 


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