Several months ago I discovered that I was suffering from some bi-lateral pitting edema in my shins. Um, huh? That’s a really fancy way of saying that I was not properly hydrating (basically, if you press your thumb directly into the flat of your shin bone for 5 seconds and it creates a lasting indent on both legs, you are probably not properly hydrated. It can also be an indication of some other issues and just to get it out of the way: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical issues. If you are concerned that you have a medical problem, please see your doctor.)
I was a little surprised to find that I had this issue. I drink liquids all day long, mainly water and all different types of tea. But hydration is not just about liquids; it also needs electrolytes to get that liquid into the tissues properly.
Basically, water follows electrolytes. If your body is in need of certain electrolytes, it will quickly absorb them and water will follow. Of course your body will take up water without electrolytes, but it will take more water and a longer period of time to get the same effect.
For me this means that while I get a lot of liquids, I’m low in a lot of electrolytes. I typically don’t eat a lot of processed foods, which is good but those foods contain sodium, an oft maligned nutrient that also happens to be a key electrolyte that helps with fluid balance.
Furthermore, women have different fluid and electrolyte needs from men; our hormones affect how our bodies utilize fluids and electrolytes. We also don’t typically sweat as profusely as men (our bodies try to preserve the fluid) so even though we are still losing fluids and electrolytes, we don’t realize how much we actually have lost and therefore need to replace. (This is not to say that women don’t sweat or that some women don’t sweat profusely, it is just that women generally have a protective mechanism that prevents acute, rapid fluid loss.)
When I realized that I had this issue going on, I quickly started to devise a way to deal with it that didn’t require using highly processed, highly sweetened, artificially colored “sports drinks.” It turns out that it is a lot easier to make your own homemade electrolyte drink than it seems. Actually, you can just add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime juice to water and get a pretty decent electrolyte drink, but I wanted something a little bit more. (Though this is what I do when I’m out at restaurants, especially on those occasions when I am partaking in *adult beverages*.)
I usually mix this drink up before I go for a run and have it waiting on the counter for when I get back home. I’ll also make up a batch in a Mason jar to take with me to the gym or leave in the car when I'm on the trails. I’ll also drink it on days I don’t workout at all and I just want something different than water or (sorry guys) depending on where I am in my cycle and I want to encourage better fluid balance (i.e. I want to help my fluid retention.)
Here is why I include the things I do:
Salt – it contains both sodium and chloride. Sodium is widely held as the most important electrolyte involved in fluid balance. The role that chloride plays is not as well understood, but recent research seems to suggest that some of the factors that we have been attributing to the sodium in salt might actually be better attributed to the chloride.
Lime juice – it contains phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The last three of these minerals are held with sodium to be the primary movers in fluid balance and phosphorus also seems to be more involved in the process than previously thought, especially in how it relates to calcium.
Chia – it contains protein, carbohydrates, fats, and calcium. As already mentioned, calcium is important in fluid balance. Because it contains protein, carbohydrates and fats, chia is a really great way to help fuel or refuel around a workout - before, during or after.
Coconut water – it contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. As already mentioned, these are all important electrolytes in helping to maintain fluid balance.
Kombucha – it contains carbohydrates (and adds flavor), which are useful when trying to fuel or refuel before, during or after a workout.
A couple of quick notes: I don’t always include everything in the mix, based on what I have on hand at the moment. The amounts are loose, add and subtract as you like. I usually keep an ice cube tray of coconut water in the freezer and just pop out an ice cube or two when I need to mix up a batch. Use ground chia seeds if you can (if you have a Bullet you can do this easily at home), they allow for greater bio-availability of the nutrients (and they don’t get stuck in your teeth.)
N.B. I recently became aware of a product called maple water. It is supposed to have a lot of the same benefits as coconut water, though it hasn’t been on the market as long so I’m a little bit wary of the claims. I have used maple water in place of the coconut water a couple of times and it is a nice change in taste.
Whoa! Apparently I had a lot to say about electrolytes and please forgive all of the parenthetical comments!
Sea salt, a pinch
Lime juice, 1 lime’s worth
Chia, ground, 1 tsp
Coconut water, 2 tbsp
Kombucha, 2 tbsp homemade or your favorite brand
Water, enough to fill a 16 oz glass (or whatever container you are using)
Serves: 1-2 (usually just 1)
Time: less than 5 minutes
1. Place the first 5 ingredients in a 16oz glass and top with water. Stir and you are done!
What do y’all do to keep your electrolytes in balance? Do you even worry about it?