Electrolytes for summer exercise

Summer will soon be upon us. It will soon be crazy hot. The heat can make outdoor endurance exercise a lot more challenging as well as potentially dangerous if you are not prepared for it. Ensuring you are getting enough electrolytes before exercise and replacing them through food or electrolyte-enriched fluids during or after exercise is of utmost importance since we can lose a lot through sweating.

Electrolytes are absolutely essential for proper functioning of the nerves, and muscles, especially the heart muscle. Drinking too much pure water that does not contain electrolytes after vigorous exercise can cause your electrolytes to become very diluted. In extreme cases, this can lead to hyponatremia, which means the blood sodium level is critically low. This condition can result in death. Every now and then, some marathoners die from this.

Fortunately, these problems are easy to avoid if you drink sports drinks or fruit/vegetable juices. If you have a blender or juicer to make vegetable juice or smoothies, this is even better. Nuts are also a great source of electrolytes.

If you are an endurance athlete, one particular mineral that you may need to pay extra attention to during the summer months is magnesium. You very likely need more than the average person. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise:

Magnesium is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance. Thus, the relationship between magnesium status and exercise has received significant research attention. This research has shown that exercise induces a redistribution of magnesium in the body to accommodate metabolic needs. There is evidence that marginal magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise (e.g., oxidative stress). Strenuous exercise apparently increases urinary and sweat losses that may increase magnesium requirements by 10-20%. Based on dietary surveys and recent human experiments, a magnesium intake less than 260 mg/day for male and 220 mg/day for female athletes may result in a magnesium-deficient status. Recent surveys also indicate that a significant number of individuals routinely have magnesium intakes that may result in a deficient status. Athletes participating in sports requiring weight control (e.g., wrestling, gymnastics) are apparently especially vulnerable to an inadequate magnesium status. Magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals. Magnesium supplementation of physically active individuals with adequate magnesium status has not been shown to enhance physical performance. An activity-linked RNI or RDA based on long-term balance data from well-controlled human experiments should be determined so that physically active individuals can ascertain whether they have a magnesium intake that may affect their performance or enhance their risk to adverse health consequences (e.g., immunosuppression, oxidative damage, arrhythmias).

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of both magnesium and zinc. Some people may even take multi-mineral supplements or salt in the extreme heat. Do all you can to make sure you are getting your electrolytes, along with proper hydration, when exercising in the extreme heat. Slow down, and drink a lot of fluid(with electrolytes) every 20 to 30 minutes if you are sweating profusely.

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