Are you familiar with electrolytes?

You see them listed on products in specialty stores or on the counter at your gym. Electrolytes play a part in the routines of plenty of athletes today, but do you know why? Read on to find out. And how ever much you work out, discover how electrolytes can transform your performance.

What exactly is an electrolyte?

An electrolyte is a mineral in the human body that gets expelled in the sweat, and the urine too. Physical exercise, not to mention physical or psychological stress, or certain diets, cause the body to lose electrolytes, which leads to a number of imbalances felt as cramps, general fatigue and cravings: irrepressible feelings to eat a food in particular – and not usually a salad! When your body senses their deficiency, it simply seeks the minerals it’s lost.

The foods richest in electrolytes are leafy green vegetables, legumes and whole grains. However, due to intensive agriculture, vegetables in today’s diet are often poorer in minerals than they used to be. Plus, as we get older, we become less and less able to transform the minerals found in vegetables into electrolytes. According to some experts, 90% of North American adults may be mineral deficient, making it a good idea to supplement them. A simple and easy way to fill up again on electrolytes is to slip them into the water we drink.

How to hydrate before, during and after giving your all

  • Beforehand: First of all, keep in mind that ninety minutes before your workout, you should avoid coffee, soda, tea, chocolate and even certain pre-workout drinks that are high in caffeine. It’s definitely not athletes’ best friend, as caffeine is extremely diuretic and stimulating, discharging a surplus of adrenalin in the body and digging into its reserves. The result? Major fatigue after working out, which some may compensate for with another coffee! Instead, drink at least 50 ml of water 90 to 60 minutes before your workout, then take sips for 10 minutes before giving it your all. For high-performance workouts, or when it’s very hot, add BioSteel to your water. Available at some Sports Experts stores, it’s completely natural and caffeine- and sugar-free.

  • During training (for workouts under an hour): 150 ml of water after 30 minutes of exercise or 100 ml every 20 minutes.

  • During training (for workouts over an hour): A rehydrating drink like Louis Garneau Sports Drink is a great option. Whatever the formula, read the ingredients closely. It should provide 6% carbohydrates and between 100 and 200 mg of sodium per cup. You can drink 60 to 120 ml every five km if you run, or 20 minutes for all other activities.

  • Afterward: In the 30 minutes following your workout, drink 500 ml of water topped up with Rekarb Energy Syrup, for example, then a glass of water every 15 minutes until you’ve downed three litres. Sure, it’s a lot, but that’s the volume of water that the body needs to recover.

Feel like making your own post-workout drink?

Put this in a blender and go:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 cup of watermelon
  • 2 tbsp of chopped mint
  • 1 tbps of honey
  • the juice of half a lemon.

Delicious and perfect for filling back up on electrolytes after a sustained workout.

Electrolytes to get the best out of performance

Most electrolyte preparations sold on the market include sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium and magnesium, with each one having a precise role to help you go a little harder.

Sodium and Chlorine: These minerals, which are found outside the cells, are sweated out in large quantities. They help to maintain fluid balance and regulate body temperature. If you run really low, you experience cramping, your heart works harder, your metabolism slows and your performance diminishes.  

Potassium: Found in the cells, potassium helps the nerves function effectively. It also plays a part in the body’s acidic balance, powering muscle contraction and the beating of your heart, growth and cell repair – which adds up to quite a starring role in your body’s functions! Plus, by binding to calcium, potassium helps maintain the mineral in your bones to keep them healthy and strong.

Magnesium: Found at levels of 60% in our bones and 40% in our cells, magnesium is used to transport calcium and potassium. It plays a part in metabolizing energy, helps keep blood glucose stable and maintains normal muscle and nerve function (heartbeat, muscle contraction, etc.). Keep in mind that stress eliminates a lot of magnesium.

Remember that the key to a successful workout is eating well and keeping hydrated. A good mix of electrolytes gives you that extra edge, but more importantly, always drink lots of water.

There are now formulas adapted to the needs of every kind of athlete, so take the time to read the different ingredients on product packages and test a few to find out which one is best for you. Now get out there and give it your 110%!

Karine Mousseau

After studying naturopathy, Karine completed a Bachelor's degree in nutrition at the University of Ottawa. Check out more of her work at, or by booking a private consultation in Bromont or Longueuil.