Electrolytes 101: How They Work & Why We Need Them Electrolytes 101: How They Work & Why We Need Them

Electrolytes 101: How They Work & Why We Need Them

Electrolytes 101: How They Work & Why We Need Them Electrolytes 101: How They Work & Why We Need Them

by Janet Ashforth


What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are mineral salts, or ions, that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. There are many different types of electrolytes in your body. You’re probably familiar with sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, and phosphates, which are all electrolytes. You lose them when you sweat, which is why you see them being marketed by athletes. Like motor oil in your car, electrolytes don’t make your engine run, but they keep things running smoothly. Too much or too little and your engine seizes up, causing you a whole host of health problems.


What Do Electrolytes Do?

Electrolytes perform numerous crucial functions in your body. They maintain proper hydration levels in your cells, which is why you feel thirsty when you work out. As you sweat out electrolytes, your brain signals thirst to encourage you to replace them. They also:

  • Carry signals from your brain to your cells
  • Aid muscle contraction
  • Maintain body temperature
  • Release hormones from your endocrine glands
  • Balance and control the movement of water between your cells and their environment
  • Regulate normal functioning of many enzymes
  • Balance PH


How to Get Electrolytes

You don’t sweat red dye #40, so why replace it? Almost every natural thing you eat or drink contains some electrolytes. Pure water will do in most cases as long as you drink enough of it. You also get plenty of electrolytes when you eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, leafy greens, and seeds. Some of the top food sources for electrolytes are:

Clearly, electrolytes are widely available and easy to add to your diet. However, if you’ve been sick or regularly do 60 to 90 minutes of intense exercise, you may want to go for an electrolyte drink. Look for products with no dyes, added sugar or any other unnatural ingredients. Watch out for added caffeine in the ready-to-drink options, because caffeine is a diuretic.


Too Much of a Good Thing

You can have too high a concentration of electrolytes, so it’s all about balance. Medical News Today says too much sodium, magnesium, calcium or potassium can cause: 

  • Muscle spasms
  • Bone disorders
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Twitching
  • Weakness
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Nervous system disorders

 Too much calcium can cause a host of other issues including:

  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Total loss of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Moodiness or irritability


The lesson here is to eat healthy, exercise and pay attention to any unusual symptoms in your body. These symptoms are common among many different health issues so it can be tough to identify the problem.


Janet Ashforth is an ACE certified personal trainer and licensed massage therapist. She first studied to become a personal trainer in 1997 and since has worked at several popular gyms and owned her own fitness company. She’s helped countless individuals maintain or regain their health and wellness. Ashforth also writes about food, nutrition, cooking and baking and is a “real food” advocate.




  1. https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/26-3-electrolyte-balance/
  2. https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/715/electrolytes-understanding-replacement-options
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php