Look on the sidelines of any major sporting event, and you are bound to see players sitting on the bench with a cup of coloured liquid in their hand. This would be a sports drink that has been making an impact on the sports scene for decades. But what is in this sports drink, or any other drink of this type, that makes it so common among athletes? It’s a combination of a few different electrolytes, carbohydrates, and sugars.

Carbohydrates are found in pasta and bread, sugars are found in lollies and soft drink, but what are electrolytes? And why are they so often consumed by athletes and those who work out a lot? They are an important part of nutrition that every athlete should learn about to help improve their training.

What are Electrolytes and Why do Athletes Drink Them?

Electrolytes have an incredibly important job to keep your body working properly. They are found in many tissues and fluids in your body and are what keeps your nervous system functioning. Without enough sodium, your body will fail because sodium facilitates electrical impulses going to and from the brain. Electrolytes are also important for storing water around the body. If you’ve ever felt bloated after eating a salty meal, it’s because the sodium chloride (table salt) is holding onto whatever water you have drunk.

But, why are elite athletes hydrating with a drink of sodium and other electrolytes like potassium and magnesium? They drink electrolyte drinks because many of these elements are lost through sweat and heavy breathing. This can quickly create a deficit that needs to be corrected, or their performance will suffer.

Side effects of an electrolyte deficiency include dizziness, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, among others. With a little bit of knowledge, these can be avoided.

Sources of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are found naturally in foods that you eat every day. Therefore, they don’t need to be

supplemented during normal activities. Chips, fruits, and other food items have potassium and sodium. Eating a balanced diet is important to keep the body working optimally, so chances are an athlete is already consuming plenty of the necessary nutrients. To prepare for a hard workout or race, it isn’t a bad idea to consume food that might be a little higher in electrolytes. A salted baked potato or toast spread with peanut butter and banana are a great snack that will sit well in the stomach and provide much-needed carbs and electrolytes to fuel the workout.

Nutrition supplements Ener-C Sport can also be consumed immediately before, during, and after a long workout. Generally, a workout 60 minutes or longer is considered “long”. Depending on your diet and the environmental conditions, an electrolyte drink or powder might not be needed for a workout shorter than 80 minutes. There are a lot of variables at play, and it’s up to you to experiment and see what works best for you.

What is the best way to supplement your electrolyte needs?

Whether you get electrolytes from food, drink, or powder is up to you and your activity. Electrolyte powders and sachets are easier to consume during the workout and have the added benefit of containing carbohydrates to help fuel you along. They are also much easier to absorb and digest while your body is already stressed.

Stomaching food is difficult and shouldn’t be done during a workout. Food is always important to fuel and recover from intense exercise. Nutrition is a very individual topic. It takes years of experimenting to get pre-race nutrition dialled in so you can feel good for the entire race without feeling sluggish and tired. Even then, a hot and humid day can be an unforeseen variable. More sweat means more electrolytes lost. Either way, an electrolyte drink will certainly help keep you performing at a high level. Your doctor may also have further information on proper nutrition and supplementation for your personal needs.

Tip: Electrolyte sachets can be added to a bottle of water for convenience. These are great to keep in a gym bag or carry with you during a run because they take up less space and weigh much less than a bottle of sports drink.