Just about every athlete I meet with for the first time has heard of electrolytes, however, very few know what they actually do and how to properly replace them. Potassium is an electrolyte that plays a crucial role in hydration, muscle contraction, and controlling blood pressure and heart rate. With warmer temperatures approaching, it's important to know that one of the leading causes of low potassium levels is excessive sweating. If you are training in hot and humid conditions, potassium and sodium are released in your sweat. Failing to replace potassium during and after workouts can lead to adverse effects such as muscular aches, cramps, fatigue, or even spasms, heart palpitations, constipation, or nausea.
Potassium and sodium are minerals that together regulate fluid levels and electrolyte balance. If you eat a diet high in processed foods (fast food, chips, crackers, frozen meals) chances are you are getting too much sodium and too little potassium. Electrolyte imbalances are something to take very seriously, especially for the elite athlete. Your body needs to maintain steady levels of electrolytes and fluids to avoid dehydration.
If you are already paying close attention to your carb and protein intake, make it a point to include sources that are rich in potassium. Here are some examples of potassium-rich foods:
Milk or yogurt
Potassium also helps maintain healthy heart function, promote healthy bones and improve muscle function. How much is enough? Adults should be getting 4.7 grams of potassium per day (extra may be needed based on training, talk with your dietitian to discuss personal needs).
Try my homemade sports drink recipe - rich in potassium!