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What Are Electrolytes and How Do They Help You?

woman preparing to go for a run

Electrolytes get a lot of attention, particularly because of athletic drinks and supplements. However, advertisements don’t tell you the whole story – what electrolytes are and why they’re important.

Electrolytes are sets of minerals that include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. They may be acids, bases or salts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and play a key role in sending electrical signals that influence the actions of your heart, muscles and nerves. Electrolytes also maintain the fluid balance in your muscles, as well as in your cells and tissues.

Learn more about how to stay hydrated.

Roles in Your Body

When electrolytes are present in adequate amounts, your muscles work well and maintain the recommended fluid balance. However, you lose electrolytes through sweat and your digestive tract, and without them, you can experience muscle cramps, soreness, spasms and even an irregular heartbeat.

Extreme and prolonged exercise causes you to lose electrolytes, which is why they’re added to sports drinks. Vomiting and diarrhea can also deplete these crucial minerals.

Sources of Electrolytes

Water does not contain electrolytes, but you can find them in most fruits and vegetables. Red, orange and yellow produce, for example, are especially rich sources of potassium and magnesium. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet ensures you’ll have these minerals in the appropriate amounts.

If you need to replace electrolytes after exercise or while you’re sick, certain sports drinks containing electrolytes are always a convenient source. Coconut water is rich in potassium and sodium, as well, while low in calories for those watching their weight. Of course, you can also make a fruit or vegetable juice to replenish your electrolyte stores on the go. Be sure to drink these beverages along with water to prevent dehydration.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.


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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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