The Science of Optimal Hydration

We’ve all experienced those days when guzzling glasses of water just doesn’t seem to quench our thirst.

While drinking enough water is critical, getting the right balance of electrolytes is also necessary for proper hydration. These electrolytes play an essential role in enabling your body to retain and use the water you drink, keeping you more hydrated compared to plain drinking water.

So, what exactly are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are electrically charged ions, including sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium, found in bodily fluids. They play essential roles in maintaining fluid balance, as well as nerve signal transmission and muscle contractions.

Electrolyte levels must be balanced for proper cellular function and overall health, particularly during exercise and hydration.Top of FormBottom of Form

Why is sodium so important?

Sodium helps regulate the balance of fluids both inside and outside cells, influencing overall hydration and blood pressure. It is also essential for conducting nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and the absorption of nutrients.

Most people need more sodium than they think, especially if they’re active. In fact, low sodium is the most common type of electrolyte imbalance.

Why do we need potassium?

Potassium is the most abundant positively charged ion inside our cells.

Most people don’t get enough potassium in their diet. When your potassium levels are low, your kidneys retain more sodium in the body, disrupting the body’s critical electrolyte balance.

Potassium acts in opposition to sodium, increasing sodium excretion and helping to ensure the right balance of these electrolytes.

What are the benefits of magnesium to hydration?

When people think of electrolytes, they typically refer to sodium and potassium. However, magnesium is also an electrolyte, and its importance cannot be underestimated.

Magnesium is involved in the function of ion channels that control the movement of sodium and potassium in and out of cells, which is crucial for maintaining cellular hydration.

Are chloride and calcium electrolytes, too?

 Both chloride and calcium are also electrolytes.

As a negatively charged ion, chloride plays a critical role in maintaining electrolyte balance, working alongside positively charged ions like sodium and potassium.

Chloride helps control fluid distribution inside and outside cells. It also contributes to the osmotic pressure of bodily fluids.

Calcium plays a significant but indirect role in hydration. While it's not a primary factor in regulating fluid balance or maintaining hydration in the same way as water or electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium or chloride, calcium is involved in several physiological processes that can impact hydration.

What should I look for in an electrolyte formula?

A good electrolyte formula should contain all key minerals, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride.

It should also be low in sugar. Many sports drinks have a high sugar content, and therefore a high osmolarity, which can lead to bloating and even diarrhea.

An electrolyte formula that will really make a difference needs to include the right concentration of electrolytes and that means it will taste salty.

The benefits of this are that you will maintain a good balance of electrolytes and stay well hydrated.

Danny Urbinder has been a qualified nutritionist and naturopath for 25 years. He has lectured in nutritional biochemistry, created successful online health education platforms, and has led education departments in the supplement and nutraceuticals industry since 2005.

by Danny Urbinder

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