With warmer days coming on, those of us who are avid hikers, pickle ball players, cyclists, or other outdoor enthusiasts will be thinking of how to keep ourselves hydrated during our favorite activity. Sports drinks, a frequent choice for hydration and a common phenomenon in our grocery stores, have their origin as a medicinally-based option. The grand-daddy of all sports drinks, Lucozade, was originally introduced by a chemist named William Owen. Launched in 1927, the advertising campaign described Lucozade as a quick fix for sick folk in need of energy and fluids. But it wasn’t until the University of Florida Gators’ assistant football coach became curious as to why athletes were so dramatically affected by heat that the sports drink craze really took off. That assistant coach asked a team of university physicians, led by Dr. Robert Cade, to look into the problem and in 1965, Gatorade was introduced to the world.
This may be simplifying the secret ingredients of Gatorade and other sports drinks but, essentially, the key to their success lies in their ability to replace your electrolytes. Our body uses electrolytes as the conduits through which electrical charges work in our bodies. This process is especially important for muscles. If you have ever had a muscle cramp, that painful spasm was probably your body telling you that the electrical impulses were not firing correctly. The seven major electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. Each electrolyte plays a specific and needful role to keep our bodies balanced in hydration, muscle function, nerve impulses, and pH level.
Of those seven, potassium and sodium, with chloride typically being linked with sodium, are frequently on the top of the to-be-aware-of-list, and for good reason.
In its role as an electrolyte, sodium is absolutely necessary for life. Most Americans get their sodium through salt—which consists of approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Since sodium’s negative role in increasing blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease has been well-publicized, you may find yourself wondering how to achieve that perfect balance without overdoing it.
Sodiumbreakup.heart.org says that typically “more than 75 percent of the sodium Americans eat comes from some processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods—not from the salt shaker.” The same article lists ¾ of a teaspoon of salt as having 1,725 mgs of sodium and the American Heart Association recommends a daily adult intake of below 1,500 mgs. Using those ratios, it is easy to see how too much salt in our diets can happen. The obvious remedy is to stay away from processed and prepackaged foods as much as possible. An additional incentive in avoiding the processed foods is that, besides the mega-salt content, the processing of food frequently strips away any naturally occurring potassium. And you guessed it; potassium is another electrolyte vital to your health.
Like sodium, potassium serves in that critical electrolyte function to conduct nerve impulses, muscle contractions, fluid flow regulation, nutrient delivery, and to normalize heart and blood vessel activity. Potassium is found in a great many sources—potatoes, spinach, low fat milk, lima beans, oranges, bananas, yogurt, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peanut butter, raisins, and prunes—to name just a few. Still, the recommended 4,700 mgs per day can be a challenge to accumulate and some people can benefit from a salt substitute containing potassium chloride.
For people at risk for certain diseases, understanding the beneficial balance of potassium for your own health needs is especially important. Hyperkalemia, or too much potassium, can occur with kidney disease and certain medications prescribed for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Conversely, hypokalemia, or too little potassium, can occur in people taking diuretics or during illness with excessive vomiting and diarrhea.
When it comes to electrolytes, it’s all about the balancing act. By eating healthy and diverse food groups, focusing on any special medical needs we may have, and, yeah, grabbing that sports drink during that sweaty workout, we can keep our electrolyte equilibrium steady as we go! Helping to keep you balanced, the Sedona Community Center offers a variety of activities to help keep you fit this summer along with delicious weekly lunches served at the Center and through Meals on Wheels. You can find a full listing of activities, menus, and information about rental spaces for your upcoming event on our website at www.sccsedona.org.