When To Take Electrolytes

First published on March 7th, 2021. Updated on July 5, 2023.
4 minutes average read.

Firstly, it’s worth explaining what electrolytes are and what function they have within humans.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential minerals that are vital to many key functions within the human body. Electrolyte is the term used for particles that carry either a positive or negative electrical charge. The electrolytes found in your body include:

  • Sodium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Potassium
  • Bicarbonate
  • Chloride
  • Calcium

Electrolyte Function in the Human Body

The electrolyte sodium is responsible for aiding nervous system functionality. Your brain sends electrical signals through your nerve cells to communicate with the cells throughout your body. These signals are called nervous impulses and are generated by changes to the electrical charge of the nerve cell membrane. The changes occur due to the movement of the electrolyte sodium across the nerve cell membrane. When this happens, it sets off a chain reaction, moving more sodium ions along the length of the nerve cell axon.

Calcium and magnesium are needed for muscle contraction, they allow muscle fibres to slide together and move over each other and can also slide outward and relax after contraction.

Electrolytes, especially sodium, help maintain fluid balance through osmosis. Osmosis is a process whereby water moves through the wall of a cell membrane from a dilute solution (more water and fewer electrolytes) to a concentrated solution (less water and more electrolytes). This helps prevent cells from bursting out being too full or shriveling up from dehydration.

To stay healthy, your body needs to regulate its internal pH. PH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is. In your body, it’s regulated by chemical buffers, or weak acids and bases, which help minimize changes in your internal environment. For example, your blood is regulated to stay at a pH of around 7.35 to 7.45. If it deviates from this, your body can’t function properly, and you become unwell. Having the right balance of electrolytes is fundamental to maintaining your blood pH level.

When To Take Electrolytes

In general, all you need to stay hydrated is a balanced diet and water, but there are certain situations when sticking to water alone just won’t cut it. That’s because, as discussed above, your body also needs electrolytes to maintain the balance of water in your body. If your electrolyte levels dip too low, drinking tons of just water is actually more likely to worsen your problems than provide the rehydrating fix you need. Electrolytes can be lost through sweat, along with bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination.

Whether you should consume electrolytes before, during, or after your workout depends largely on the type of workout you are doing and how much you generally sweat. Some people are extremely salty sweaters, as evidenced by skin and clothing covered in a salty residue after a workout, and others are profuse sweaters who start sweating even with a mild or short exercise. These individuals should drink electrolytes before they work out in order to prepare their bodies for what is to come, especially when they plan to exercise for an extended period of time, at a high intensity, or in a hot or humid environment. In general, most people drink electrolytes after their workout in order to replace electrolytes that the body has lost through sweat. Plain water can be enough to rehydrate after a short or low intensity workout, but people who are salty or have excessive sweaters or who have worked out for a long time or at a high intensity should consider using an electrolyte supplement to rebalance their electrolyte and fluid levels. People who are training for endurance events, such as a marathon, half marathon, or triathlon, and are doing intense workouts each day need to be careful about properly replacing electrolytes in order to ensure that they do not enter their workouts depleted and dehydrated.


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