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Do you need post-workout electrolytes?

March 16, 2014

You know that it’s important to stay hydrated before, during and after an intense session pounding the belt of treadmills or the pedals of commercial exercise bikes, but what liquids are you usually grabbing to quench your thirst? The most common answer is water, but sports drinks might be a close second. While both can keep you hydrated each time you exercise, is it always necessary to replenish your electrolytes as well as your water volume? When do you need to drink electrolytes? The need for electrolytes depends on how long you work out on commercial fitness equipment, and at what intensity level. Typically, most exercise sessions don’t require the replenishment of electrolytes immediately afterward, so water is just fine. If your time in the gym clocks in at an hour or less, good old H2O is all you need to avoid becoming dehydrated during your sweat session. However, if you’re working out at higher-than-normal intensity levels or for more than an hour – maybe you’re training for a marathon and logging multiple hours on commercial treadmills – then it becomes necessary to add more electrolytes back into your body. But what is an electrolyte? According to the American Council on Exercise, electrolytes are electrically charged ions that help the body function properly. They assist in maintaining fluid balance, neural activity and muscle contraction. Since sweating causes you to lose extra electrolytes during an extended period of time, it’s important to replace them so your body can continue to perform at its highest capacity. Drinking a Gatorade, Powerade or even coconut water can replenish your electrolytes. “Exercising 1.5 hours to 3 hours is long enough to warrant fluid replacement due to sweat losses,” Kristine Clark, FACSM, director of sports nutrition for Penn State University Park, told WebMD. “How much sweat is lost influences how much sodium and potassium are lost. A sports drink can do many great things to increase energy levels without the complications of digesting and absorbing a meal.” Another great way to replace electrolytes after a long, intense workout is to eat a meal rich in sodium, magnesium, chloride and potassium. These can be found in dark, leafy greens such as spinach, nuts like almonds and cashews as well as fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, celery, sweet potatoes and broccoli.