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Electrolytes part 1: how electrolytes help support hydration

Hydration is key to hitting your goals. Let’s take a closer look at how electrolytes help to support hydration. Electrolytes alone do not hydrate, but rather it’s how they work with water that helps to support hydration. To begin, all electrolytes are ionic, meaning they can either carry a positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water. Electrolytes can essentially break apart in water, become electrolyzed and actually conduct electricity. Cations are positively (+) charged, whereas anions are negatively (-) charged.

Ions can respond to other molecules based upon their charge. A common example is a compound called sodium chloride (NaCl), otherwise known as table salt. The charges are extremely important, because they control the flow of water in and out of cells. Ion channels in cell membranes respond based on the positive and negative charges. As you may know, water likes to follow the charges and flows towards electrolytes. Too much or too little of one mineral can potentially create an imbalance.

Positively Charged Ions (Cations)

Negatively Charged Ions (Anions)

Sodium (NA+)

Chloride (Cl-)

Potassium (K+)

Bicarbonate (HCO3-)

Calcium (Ca2+)

Phosphate (PO43-)

Magnesium (Mg2+)



Water in the Body

Water is distributed all throughout the body in intracellular and extracellular fluid. Intracellular fluid is found within a cell and makes up about two-thirds of the body’s total water. Extracellular fluid is found outside and between cells and makes up about one-third of the body’s total water. These fluids are more than just water. They contain varying types and amounts of electrolytes depending on where they're found in the body. For example, sodium is the main mineral found outside of the cell (extracellular) whereas potassium is the main mineral found mostly inside the cell (intracellular). In all, maintaining fluid balance is essential for health and performance.

Sodium Balance

A key mineral which helps to regulate fluid balance is sodium. Too little sodium can cause cells to gain water and swell. Too much sodium can cause cells to lose water and shrink. The balance of water relative to sodium is essential. Moreover, the amount of water can impact the overall concentration of sodium and vice versa. When there are excessively low levels of water, then it can cause sodium to become concentrated and cause high levels of sodium in the blood, known as hypernatremia. When there are excessively high levels of water, then it can cause sodium to dilute and cause low levels of sodium in the blood, also known as hyponatremia.

Balancing Act

These electrically charged minerals work together throughout the body to help maintain homeostasis, which is the body’s internal state of balance. The human body has many regulatory mechanisms in place to help maintain homeostasis. Fluid balance is a tightly regulated internal process. The renal system is highly involved with water regulation by calibrating the level of electrolytes in the body. In all, fluid regulating is a highly regulated processed, but can’t work efficiently without water and electrolytes. It’s important to help your body maintain fluid balance through adequate hydration and intake of electrolytes, although electrolyte imbalance in healthy adults is quite rare. Consider water and electrolytes next time you think about your nutrition.