Replacing Electrolytes Naturally – Real Food and Water is All You Need

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
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Blood Pressure changes

Sports Drinks Are Toxicsports 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?

coconut waterThis 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.

Sodiumsalt sodium

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

Chloride is typically paired with sodium to make table salt.  Like sodium, it helps maintain body fluids, blood volume, and blood seaweedpressure.  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.

 

Magnesiumpumpkin seeds

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

bananas

 

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

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and most of it (99%) is                                                                              used to keep your bones andapricots 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.

Ultima Replenisher                     Salt Stick

 

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4 thoughts on “Replacing Electrolytes Naturally – Real Food and Water is All You Need”

  • Great article, Katie!

    I always thought Gatorade and PowerAde were “go-to” drinks for electrolyte replenishment. I never realized how much junk was actually included in them. I really need to read labels a lot more!

    I think I’ll stick with the foods you suggested when I’m out on the trails. It’s simple and light to carry some nuts, bananas, and a jar of peanut butter.

    I may also check out the Salt Stick electrolyte capsules to carry as a backup, too. Sounds like a wise choice!

    Jim

    • Thanks, Jim

      Great to hear you are going to go with whole foods instead of sports drinks. I usually take Salt Stick on long, high mile backpacking trips and I find it keeps my legs from cramping and getting sore. They also come in a chewable version and one with caffeine if you need an extra kick.

  • This article is quite an eye opener, especially in relation to the sports drinks. We really eat up whatever we see on television/social media and just claim it as truth without even questioning it. Sad.

    In relation to coconut water… I totally agree. Nothing like it fresh from the coconut. Absolutely delicious! The ones in the cans taste nothing like the original. Yuck!

    • I agree it is kinda sad that some people take whatever the media feeds to them as fact…but I do think people are starting to wake up and take charge of their health. Part of the reason I started this site is to help people make healthier, more informed choices.

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