What comes to mind when I say the word, “electrolytes?”
Most people tend to think of a large, colorful Gatorade or Powerade beverage. Perhaps you’ve ventured into other brands of electrolyte beverages such as Nuun, Osmo, Skratch, Body Armor, or Tailwind. But more likely than not, a cold flavorful drink came to mind. What, most likely, didn’t come to mind was a food source for electrolytes.
Due to electrolyte’s role in hydration status, it’s no surprise that we often forget food sources of electrolytes when considering our replenishment strategies. That being said, they are just as valid of an option if food sources of electrolytes fit your preference better.
Why Are Electrolytes Important?
Electrolytes are a critical component of fueling for an endurance athlete. Electrolytes play critical roles in regulating muscle contractions and hydration status during exercise. Having too much or too little concentrations of electrolytes during exercise can cause muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, headaches, and significantly decreased performance.
For the most part, our kidneys do a fantastic job at regulating electrolyte levels throughout light exercise & daily activities. However, anytime we sweat in large amounts due to heat or duration of activity, replenishing our body with lost electrolytes is necessary in order to avoid the negative effects of dehydration.
Sodium & chloride are the two electrolytes lost in greatest concentrations in our sweat, and should therefore be the two minerals we focus on the most when looking for food and beverage sources of electrolytes. Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are 3 other electrolytes to include as well.
Food Sources Of Electrolytes
Here’s a list of foods you can try that are rich in these nutrients:
Sodium & chloride (together they form table salt)
*aim for 300-600 mg of sodium per hour of activity
*100-200 mg of potassium per hour of activity (helps sodium be better absorbed in the body)
*300-400 mg/day for most adult men & women
*1000-1300 mg/day for most adult men & women
Using food sources of electrolytes can be a good way to increase variety in your fueling plan, especially during ultra-long endurance events (3+ hours). Consider roasting some small potatoes with salt & olive oil for a savory snack, or making a bag of trail mix with nuts, raisins, and pretzels for the top of a mountain summit. Many gels & chews have a significant amount of electrolytes in them as well, so plan accordingly when choosing your fueling options.
Food sources of electrolytes are also a perfect way to stock up or replenish your stores before or after exercise. Sprinkle extra salt on your food, make some lentil tacos, or a smoothie with milk, spinach, bananas, and protein powder. Taco soup with a tomato juice base or any soup with a chicken broth base are excellent options as well.
- Sims, D. T. (2016). Sport-Specific Fueling. In ROAR: How to match your food and fitness to your female physiology for optimum performance, great health, and a strong, lean, body for life. (p. 194-196). New York, NY: Rodale Books.
- Rosenbloom C. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. Fluid, Electrolytes, and Exercise. Published in 2012 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Page 87-111.
- Others: Vitamins & Minerals. NHS. Sodium & Chloride. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/.
- Potassium – Health Professional Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/. Updated June 2, 2022. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- Magnesium – Health Professional Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Updated June 2, 2022. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- Calcium – Health Professional Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Updated June 2, 2022. Accessed August 3, 2022.