Replacing Electrolytes Naturally – Real Food and Water is All You Need
What are Electrolytes and Why Do I Need Them?
If you are backpacking, especially during the warmer summer months, you are going to be sweating. When you sweat, you not only lose water but also salts such as sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. These salts are called electrolytes because they literally have an electric charge. When electrolytes are dissolved in water, they separate into positively and negatively charged ions. Your nerves signal to eachother via these oppositely charged ions. Electrolytes also play an important role in hydration of our cells and muscles. Not only that, but they also regulate every muscle and nerve function, blood PH, blood pressure, and help repair damaged tissue. They do everything from regulating your heartbeat to helping contract your muscles so you can move. If your electrolytes are out of balance you can quickly become dehydrated leading to fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. Balanced electrolytes are especially important in the prevention of altitude sickness when hiking at high altitudes. Read on for tips on replacing electrolytes naturally.
Some of the Unpleasant Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Joint Pain and numbness
- Heart palpitations
- Digestive issues
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Blood Pressure changes
Sports Drinks Are Toxic
Many people, hikers included, turn to sports drinks to replenish their electrolytes. These companies have done such a great job with their marketing that people just assume this is the best/only option. Gatorade, Powerade, and drinks like these are full of artificial colors, refined sugar, and other chemicals I can’t pronounce. Not surprising, Gatorade is produced by Pepsico and Powerade by Coca Cola. Powerade even contains a controversial substance called brominated vegetable oil which is banned in Europe and Japan. Sure, these drinks might have electrolytes in them, but there’s plenty of other stuff in there that you do not want in your body.
What About Coconut Water?
This is tricky because, yes, coconut water is an excellent source of electrolytes. BUT that is fresh coconut water straight from a coconut. Most coconut water in stores these days has been ruined by pasteurization and added sweeteners and preservatives including formaldehyde on some coconuts shipped to the US. Coconut water is very perishable and should be kept cold but many are treated so that they are shelf stable for two years. That’s just gross, and I really don’t want to be putting anything in my body that has been sitting around that long. My best advice if you want to purchase coconut water is to look for a raw, organic, and unpasteurized brand such as Harmless Harvest or Munkijo.
Replenish the Right Way
All you really need to replace electrolytes is plain old water and foods high in electrolytes. When you eat a plant based diet, this is fairly simple to accomplish.
Sodium is the electrolyte we lose in the highest concentration when we sweat. Sodium helps maintain the body’s fluids in normal balance, plays a part in blood volume and blood pressure, and is vital for nerve and muscle function. To replenish your sodium while out on the trail, simply add salt to your meals.
Chloride is typically paired with sodium to make table salt. Like sodium, it helps maintain body fluids, blood volume, and blood pressure. It is also an important component in hydrochloric acid which is the main stomach acid for digestion. It is an electrolyte not typically lacking from the American diet as it is found in mostly processed foods. It can be tricky to get from a healthy source while backpacking since the most food sources that contain it are not conducive to backpacking such as celery, olives, and lettuce. Seaweed is a great source of chloride so I always take some dried seaweed to snack on.
To name just a few of the 300 plus functions of magnesium in the human body, it assists in muscle contraction, nerve function, and bone development. Magnesium also helps regulate heart beat, blood glucose levels, and enzyme activity. My go to foods for getting plenty of magnesium while hiking are nuts and seeds, peanut butter, lentils, beans, and chia seeds.
Potassium has a lot of important functions in the body. It regulates blood pressure, supports heart function, plays an important role in muscle contractions, and prevents bone loss and kidney stones. Foods high in potassium that you should be taking backpacking with you include coconut, banana,avocados, dates, raisins, beans, lentils, and potatoes.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and most of it (99%) is used to keep your bones and teeth healthy. The body moves calcium out of the bones and into the blood as needed. For people that do not consume enough calcium, osteoporosis occurs because the body removes too much calcium from the bones, thus weakening them. Calcium also assists in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve functions. Easy to carry sources of calcium for backpacking include chia seeds, figs, dried apricots, beans, lentils, whey protein, and almonds.
Be Sure You’re Covering All Your Bases
If you want to be sure that your body will be getting adequate electrolytes while in the backcountry you can always supplement with an electrolyte tablet or powder. Be sure to check labels and make sure there are no sweeteners or artificial flavors added. I have read nothing but great things about Ultima Replenisher, which is an electrolyte powder you add to water. It is vegan and contains no sugar, carbs, or caffeine. One thing I thought was really cool about this product is that they use plant based coloring and real fruit flavors. Saltstick is another really well-liked product. It was originally developed for triathletes by an organic chemist. Its claim to fame is that it has apparently been used by every World Champion Iron Man since 2006.