Electrolyte is a "medical/scientific" term for salts, specifically
ions. The term electrolyte means that this ion is electrically-charged
and moves to either a negative (cathode) or positive (anode) electrode:
ions that move to the cathode (cations) are positively charged
ions that move to the anode (anions) are negatively charged
For example, your body fluids -- blood, plasma, interstitial fluid
(fluid between cells) -- are like seawater and have a high
concentration of sodium chloride (table salt, or NaCl). The
electrolytes in sodium chloride are:
sodium ion (Na+) - cation
chloride ion (Cl-) - anion
As for your body, the major electrolytes are as follows:
Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially
nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell
membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle
contractions) across themselves and to other cells.
Your kidneys work
to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant despite
changes in your body. For example, when you exercise heavily, you lose
electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium. These
electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of
your body fluids constant.
Many sports drinks have sodium chloride
or potassium chloride added to them. They also have sugar and
flavorings to provide your body with extra energy and to make the drink
Another example where electrolyte drinks are important is when
infants/children have chronic vomiting or diarrhea, perhaps due to
intestinal flu viruses. When children vomit or have diarrhea, they lose
electrolytes. Again, these electrolytes and the fluids must be replaced
to prevent dehydration and seizures. Therefore, drinks such as
Pedialyte have sodium and potassium in them like the sports drinks do.
However, pediatricians do not recommend giving sports drinks to a sick
child! Sports drinks have much higher sugar concentrations than
Pedialyte and the high sugar is not a proper treatment.
Water and Electrolytes
Sports Drinks... Electrolyte beverage... Vitamin Water... Sugar Water... Glucose Polymer... or just plain Water?
If you exercise, you need to replenish the fluids your body loses in sweating. For the real go-getters, that could be a problem. If you weigh about 150 pounds and sweat away more than two percent of body weight or three pounds, you are putting your heart under stress.
When the body is under stress, your temperature increases and performance declines. During continuous, high-intensity exercise in hot weather, you can sweat away a two to four pounds (one to two quarts) in an hour.
If you are an athlete or someone who takes exercise seriously, fluid replacement is critical. Dehydration severely limits athletic performance. Heat stroke, organ damage and possible death may result if fluids are not consumed at regular intervals during exercise.
The best way to avoid dehydration is to drink enough fluids to offset fluid loss. Drink before, during and after a workout. The serious exerciser can weigh before and after a typical workout to figure out how much fluid is needed. Consume two cups of water for each pound lost during exercise.
Thirst is not an adequate indicator of dehydration. By the time you feel thirsty you may already be dehydrated. And you can quench your thirst before the body's fluid replacement requirements are met. Sports physiologists recommend that you start drinking before you feel thirsty and keep drinking even after your thirst is quenched.
Plain water, which is easily absorbed by the body, not only is perfectly adequate but is the best beverage to drink. Leading sports physiologists have found that the difference between sports drinks and plain water is meaningful only to people who push themselves to the activity level of elitist, dedicated athletes.
Those who train or participate in events for four hours or more, may benefit from drinking a diluted sports drink.
Replenishing the body's electrolytes, which is a major selling point of sports drinks, is less important than the ads would have you believe. It is true that sodium, which helps regulate the body's fluid balance and plays a role in muscle contraction, is lost in sweat. Except, however, for athletes who compete in endurance events, exercisers needn't worry about running short on sodium or potassium. Both of these nutrients are plentiful in the American diet.
Here are some tips to keep from "running dry".
Drink water before exercise. Drink water, diluted fruit juice or diluted sports drink during exercise, practice and competition.
During exercise, drink about eight ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Cold drinks are absorbed most rapidly.
If you exercise vigorously for less than one hour, or moderately for less than two hours, water is all you need. Add a squeeze of lime or a splash of juice for variety.
If you exercise strenuously for more than one hour, or moderately for more than two hours, you can benefit from an energy drink. Be sure the carbohydrate content doesn't exceed eight percent by weight. More than that will slow absorption and may cause stomach cramps.
Refuel your muscles within two hours after exercise.
Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol which are thought to have a dehydrating effect. Carbonated drinks tend to make you feel full, making it difficult to drink enough.
Never restrict fluids during exercise.
Always make fluids a part of your exercise routine.
"To the people of poor nations, we
pledge to work alongside you to make
your farms flourish and LetCleanWatersFlow, to nourish starved
bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy
relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to
suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources
without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change
with it". Source: President Obama, Inaugural Speech, January 20, 2009, Washington, DC, USA.