runner hydration

What are Electrolytes and What is their Relevance for Runners?

Most runners have heard of the famous electrolytes, but few of them know what they are and what their importance is for long distance runners.

Most sport drinks ads, normally mention electrolytes. Therefore, many runners relates them with the consumption of drinks, but electrolytes are substances that are not only provided through what we drink but also what we eat.

So to understand a little more, we will explain you what are electrolytes and why are they important for a runner.

ELECTROLYTES AND HYDRATION

Electrolytes are minerals found in blood and other body fluids that carry an electrical charge.

Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are the four main electrolytes. They are ionic, which allows them to have the ability to carry electrical energy to allow the different systems of the body to work properly. But they are not the only ones.

The electrolytes are:

Sodium:

The body uses it to control blood pressure and blood flow. It is necessary for the muscles to work properly.

Chloride:

It is probably the most unknown electrolyte, but it is another important element to keep the body fluids in balance.

It is also an essential part of the stomach digestive process.

Potassium:

It promotes communication between nerves and muscles. It works together with sodium to keep the level of fluids balanced in the body cells.

Calcium:

Though many believe that calcium is only important for bones, it is also an electrolyte (the most abundant in our body).

Calcium is essential for the functioning of muscles, vessels and the nervous system.

Magnesium:

This electrolyte is vital for the contraction and the relaxation of the muscles; it also helps in the energy flow throughout the body.

ITS RELEVANCE

For long distance runners, having a balanced level of electrolytes is vital to have an optimum performance during training and races.

If you lose your electrolytes balance, your performance while running will be diminished, thus increasing the possibilities of suffering from muscular fatigue and cramps.

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Other symtoms are:

– muscular spasms,

– fatigue,

– nausea,

-constipation,

-dark and/or little urine,

-dry mouth,

-dry skin,

-muscular weakness.

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For that reason, it is important to point out that, in order to have the right levels of electrolytes, hydration is not the only aspect to take into account since daily feeding is vital to have a good deposit of them. 

This means that if you eat properly foods that provide a good amount of these essential minerals and if your trainings are not excessively hard you should not have problems to maintain them balanced. 

For that reason, for half marathoners and marathoners, it is essential to have foods that are rich in electrolytes

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flickr photo by Peter Mooney http://flickr.com/photos/peterm7/13951852901 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license