Getting in enough electrolytes is essential, especially when temperatures are high or you’ve been sweating during a workout. Put simply, they're minerals in your body that have an electric charge and help your cells and organs function properly. Your body needs electrolytes, like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, to stay balanced and hydrated, and if it doesn’t get enough, it can lead to fatigue, brain fog, bloating, muscle pain, hunger (although it’s really thirst!), and more.
That’s why it’s important to get enough electrolytes throughout the day to keep your body in tip-top shape, to protect your heart and joints, and to keep you energized and alert. Your kidneys balance electrolytes to a certain degree already, but you need to help them out. If you think you might be deficient, here are a few indications that you probably need more electrolytes.
You Lack in Fruits and Veggies
“These foods are the best sources of key minerals (aka electrolytes) in the diet. If you don't eat at least 5 to 9 half-cup servings of vegetables and fruit daily, you're likely coming up short on electrolytes, especially potassium,” says Suzanne Dixon, RD, a registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. “On average, only about one-in-five American adults meet the recommended intake of vegetables and fruit on the regular,” she says.
If you’re not eating enough veggies, like leafy greens or sweet potato, or fruit with high water content, as well as potassium and magnesium, like bananas, avocados, coconut, and watermelon, then you could definitely be facing deficiency.
If you've been sick and have lost electrolytes due to vomiting, it's really a good idea to drink some Pedialyte and replenish those minerals even if you can't stomach an actual piece of food.
You’re on a Low-Carb or Keto Diet
“Low-carb diets cut out some of the most important sources of electrolytes in the diet, including vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. If you're like a lot of people who view carbs as enemy number one of your six-pack goals, that's a big sign you're not getting enough electrolytes,” she says. In fact, dehydration, muscle cramping, and thirst are common on keto when you’re not supplementing wisely with electrolytes.
Luckily, with a grain-free lifestyle, there's no mineral or vitamin in grains that can't be found from other food sources. To make sure you're getting enough, you can take supplements or simply load up on fats high in magnesium and potassium, like nuts and avocado. And don’t skip those leafy greens, which are also a keto or low-carb essential!
You Love Your Salt Shaker
You need sodium in the diet for balanced electrolytes, like post-workout or sweating, for sure, but you don’t want to throw salt on everything you eat.
“For proper blood pressure regulation, good cardiovascular health and excellent kidney function, your body needs a mix of electrolytes. The two most important ones are sodium and potassium,” she says. And usually, Americans can too much sodium and not enough potassium.
“Too much sodium is a problem, but it becomes an even bigger health hazard when combined with eating too little potassium. If you enjoy your sodium-filled processed foods or salt everything in site, that's a key sign you need more potassium-rich foods, too,” she says. Try low-sodium tomato juice, coconut water, apricots, avocado, baked potatoes, bananas, and lentils to increase your potassium intake.
When it comes to your salty snacks, you might consider making a simple switch here and there. For instance, instead of your average gluten-free pretzels, try these. Instead of processed table salt, they're seasoned with mineral-rich Himalayan pink salt and 100mg of potassium (compared to other gluten-free pretzels containing 0mg of potassium and comparable sodium). Even better? Dip them in hummus, glaze them with yogurt, or throw in some dried fruit for an added helping of potassium.
You Have Muscle Cramps
Sure, you might get sore post-workout or cramp up during it, but often, a cramp during might be from dehydration and loss of electrolytes! And if you’re chronically depleted, you might experience muscle cramps at night, too, just because your body is begging for minerals. FYI—that’s why people use Epsom salts, or magnesium, in a bath for post-workout recovery! It's also why you see athletes chugging Gatorade on the sidelines.
“There are lots of things that can contribute to muscle cramps, so if these are new to you, check with your doctor right away. Once your doctor has ruled out more serious causes of cramping muscles, consider adding potassium- and magnesium-rich foods—fruit and nuts, for example—or supplements,” she says.
Just be cautious with magnesium supplements, as they have a laxative effect, so “spread the total dose throughout the day, taking no more than 20-50% of the RDA for magnesium at any one time,” Dixon suggests. If you have a weak stomach, or you don’t feel so hot after taking them, definitely avoid them and focus more on balancing your diet instead.
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.