Written by Jaimie Bougie
It has been a hot and humid summer this year in San Diego and if you’ve spent any time at Invictus after the mid-morning hours, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s impossible to come to the gym this time of year without leaving about five pounds lighter due to the amount of sweat that you’ll be losing during your one hour of Invictus amazingness. And although making awesome sweat angels can leave us feeling accomplished after a hard workout, it’s important to remember that rehydrating is a key factor to not only post workout recovery but also your overall health.
It’s important to hydrate not just after your workout but to also ensure that you are hydrated before working out as well. Sweat evaporation during a workout is a key thermoregulatory mechanism, but exercising to exhaustion when you have a fluid deficit can lead to many physical problems, such as fatigue . Individuals can lose 800 mg or more of sodium per liter of sweat, making replacement vital .
So what does this mean? Although we praise drinking lots of water to all of our members, plain drinking water may not be enough for you during these hot months. The key missing factor? Electrolytes. If you eat a very unprocessed diet and stay physically active, you may want to consider drinking electrolyte-rich fluids before, during and after your workouts.
Why Water Is Not Enough
Common sense tells us that if we are losing water through our skin (aka sweat) and we are hot and thirsty, that we should drink plenty of water to rehydrate ourselves. But chugging water post-workout may not be enough to get your system back into pre-workout harmony. In fact, a strong case can be made that it’s not ideal to try to hydrate with just plain old water, since water is not the only substance our bodies need to achieve optimal levels of hydration. When you drink plain water, the electrolytes in your tissues are diluted; so in effect, drinking plain water by itself can relieve thirst while actually dehydrating you .
So what exactly are ‘electrolytes’? Electrolytes are chemical substances that when dissolved in water transform into ions, which are molecules to help conduct electrical impulses throughout the body. Without them, the muscle would not be able to contract and the brain would not be able to function. A deficiency in electrolytes can adversely affect your health and water cannot exist in your tissues without them .
Luckily for us, getting in pre- and post-workout electrolytes is an easy fix and there are many options that you can choose from that suit both your taste buds and your dietary needs.
Sports Drinks – Skip the Bottle!
A very popular option, sports drinks have been around for decades (Gatorade came out in 1965), with the purpose of helping athletes replace water, electrolytes and energy after training or competition. Sports drinks do contain the important element of electrolytes; but unfortunately, many of these drinks also contain high amounts of calories and sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Not only is this not suitable for those who are trying to stick to a clean diet, but the additional chemical additives can leave the body dehydrated and metabolically imbalanced .
Coconut Water is probably everyone’s favorite option for rehydrating; most people enjoy the taste, it’s a natural way to rehydrate without any additional chemical additives and we sell it at the front desk, so it’s an easy grab-n-go option for our gym members. Unlike sports drinks, coconut water is low in carbs and is a rich source in electrolytes and natural salts, especially potassium and magnesium. Although it’s considered low in carbs, one small container of coconut water can average around 15g of sugar, so this option may not be the best choice for those who are concerned about their body composition goals.
As a runner during my pre-CrossFit days, I discovered the joy that is electrolyte tablets. You can buy them at most vitamin and sports shops and they are pretty easy to use; you just drop a tablet into your liter of water and wait patiently for it to dissolve. Nuun tablets, one of the most popular brands today, cost around $7 for a small, portable container of 8 single serving tablets, and they come in an array of different flavors.
Take Your Water with a Grain of Salt
The last option is pretty simple – just add salt to your drinking water. This is my favorite option, so hear me out before you make a cringe face at the thought of drinking salty water! Salt works well as an electrolyte; it is composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride and when dissolved in fluids, the sodium possess a mild electrical charge, making it an electrolyte . One teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) provides about 2,300 mg of sodium. Not only is it a natural ingredient but you probably have some form of salt lying around your kitchen as we speak – so no need to run out to spend money on sports drinks, coconut water or Nuun tablets. You simply put a couple of pinches of salt in your drinking water throughout the day and you are good to go.
Find What Works For You!
So which option is best?
Prior to an intense workout, mixing a teaspoon of good quality Himalayan salt in one liter of water will help improve thermoregulation, increase plasma volume and reduce risk of hyponatremia. We recommend Himalayan salt over processed table salt because it tends to contain other minerals that are important to your health.
Post-workout, electrolyte tablets are probably one of the best options for the sweaty CrossFitter; one tablet will help replenish any sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium lost through sweat. Replenishment of these four key nutrients are all important to your overall health and performance.
Because I drink over three liters of water a day, I started adding electrolytes to my water about two and a half months ago – and the results have been awesome. Almost immediately, I noticed that I wasn’t getting sluggish mid-way through the day like I usually do, and I was recovering well after my workouts. I am now able to do a morning track workout and then still have enough energy and desire to hit it hard in the gym that same afternoon without having to take a nap in-between workouts; this was never possible before.
I encourage all of you to give it a try and report any positive results that you may notice!