If you’ve participated in any type of physical activity, you’ve likely heard that you need to replace your electrolytes, especially if you sweat a lot. Electrolytes are minerals, such as sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphate, that regulate body fluids and are essential to physical activity.

Do you need to replace electrolytes whenever you work out?

Probably not.

Your body loses water faster than it loses electrolytes, so most of the time all you need to do is make sure you rehydrate by drinking water. Most people’s regular workouts are not intense enough to require electrolyte replenishment right after the workout is done. There are times when water alone is not sufficient and you also need to replace the electrolytes lost through sweating.

Although each person is different, as a general rule of thumb you usually don’t have to replace electrolytes if your workout is less than one hour. The longer the workout and the more intense the exercise, the more likely you’ll need electrolytes. The warmer the weather and the more you sweat, the more likely you’ll need electrolyte replacement. Again, this is just a general guideline and will differ by individual, activity and other factors. Pay attention to signs that your electrolyte levels are too low, such as muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, nausea or mental confusion.

If you do need to replenish electrolytes after your workout, skip the sugary sports drinks. Aside from the fact that most commercial sports drinks are filled with artificial ingredients, the sugar in them can slow down the rate at which water enters the bloodstream. Instead, you can start to replenish lost electrolytes with the food you eat following your workout. These foods are good sources of electrolytes:

  • Sodium – pickles, peanut butter, soup and tomato juice
  • Chloride – celery, lettuce, olives and table salt
  • Potassium – bananas, tomatoes, spinach and sweet potatoes
  • Magnesium – leafy greens, almonds, cashews and tofu
  • Calcium – yogurt, milk, cheese and kale

As long as you eat a balanced diet and stay well hydrated, your electrolyte levels should be where they need to be after a light-to-moderate intensity workout. If you are engaging in intense exercise sessions on a regular basis, such as when training for a marathon or triathlon, you will need to take extra steps to keep electrolyte levels in check.