Electrolytes, optional or essential?
Electrolytes. What's the deal? Do we need them? Why do we need them? What are they anyway? Do you get confused by the whole electrolyte conversation? I sure do. That's why I decided to write this blog post and share, not only my experience with electrolytes, but share what I learned from our members.
Electrolytes became a hot topic for me when I was on a hike in the UK about a month ago. I was hiking an average of 6-10 hours a day. It was unusually sunny and warm for England, and I was hitting some intense elevation. Who knew England had HILLS! On the first day, after spending several days traveling and not eating well, I began to climb my first hill. It was 1000 feet elevation in a ridiculously short distance from bottom to top. This shouldn't have been a big deal for me. I do this type of hiking all the time, but on this day I was struggling. I was hiking along side a couple from Texas who trained for this hike by running (yes, running) stairs at their local college stadium. When we started to climb I started to move really slow and breath like I was on the highway to hell. About 3/4 of the way up I started to get light headed and had to sit down as the Texans looked at me with a worried expression on their face. I felt faint and wondered if I was going to need a helicopter rescue on my very first day of the fourteen day hike. This had never happened to me before. I'm a fairly experienced hiker. I live in the desert for crying out loud. I can do mountains, and I can do heat. Luckily, I brought some Salt Stick Chewables and took two of those with water. Rested for a few minutes and was able to get up and make it up that hill feeling more like myself. At the top I stopped and had two more chews, an orange and more water. Felt totally fine the rest of the hike which was still another two hours of hiking.
Rachel Johnson, MS, ATC is a certified athletic trainer and doctoral student at the University of Georgia in the Department of Kinesiology and she was kind enough to send us this information "Electrolytes are substances that conduct electrical impulses when dissolved in water. Many processes in the body rely on electrolytes in order for them to occur properly; skeletal muscles, the heart, and the nervous system all need a proper balance of electrolytes to function the way they are supposed to. When exercising intensely, sweating will lead to a loss of fluids and may lead to an imbalance in electrolytes; this can vary a lot depending on the person, their fitness level, gender, the equipment and clothing they’re wearing, as well as the environment they’re in. Most people get a suitable amount of electrolytes from eating a properly balanced diet. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes, however, for exercise lasting less than 1 hour, water should be sufficient for the average person to adequately replace the fluids lost. It is good to consume electrolytes as well as water to rehydrate after intense sweating, rehydration should occur within 2 hours after the exercise bout. The most important electrolytes are potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphate. It is recommended to consume 200-300mL of fluid for every 15 min of exercise. Loss of fluids can lead to dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke."
So that helps us understand electrolytes and why, when we are out hiking for 2, 3, 4, hours, we need to make sure we are replacing what we are losing. They will help with faster recovery, and help you feel better over the long haul.
Our plan was to test out different types of electrolyte replacements, but what we heard loud and clear is that everyone is so different it won't do you any good to tell you want works for us because it might not work for you. Here are the types we found. You experiment and do what works for you.
Powerade: Sports drinks have become ubiquitous with exercise. Many say it's too full of high fructose corn syrup, some say it tastes gross (me, I'm the some).
Nuun: These are the go to's for most of the people I know. Out on a hike, drop them in your water. The recommended dosage is one tablet for every 8 ounces of water. They add a nice flavor with a bit of fizz to your drink.
GU: These come in a sleeve and are like gummy bears. Fun, if you like gummies, because according to package directions you need to take four before your activity and four during. That's a whole package, y'all!
Salt Stick Chewables: This is my favorite. It's what I used in England during my long hot strenuous days, and it's what I continue to use here when I'm hiking or running in the heat and sweating a lot. I sweat salt so that could be why this one is my go to for electrolyte replacement.
Coconut Water: One of our regular guides for adventures has a fun tip for this one. She freezes the containers and then drinks it at the end of her hike. Nice cold drink on a hot day but be warned that it may not work to completely, according to WebMD The Truth About Coconut Water, replace electrolytes lost if you have been doing strenuous activity.
Water: Essential. Don't skip it. Drink it. Love it. Embrace it.
The importance of electrolytes is real when you are out on long hikes or training hard. Taking care of ourselves while adventuring is key. Knowing our limits and staying safe. Always have water and keep some electrolytes in your bag for extra protection.