This article was originally written in an effort to better explain true dehydration and what electrolytes are all about. We almost always use electrolytes as part of the treatment protocol when you have nonspecific and seemingly goofy symptoms. Weird muscle spasms, charlie horses, twitches, nervy sensations or muscles that are feeling “off.” Maybe your last couple workouts have tanked. This stinks, and this inconvenience is keeping you from your goals!
It could be you have an ELECTROLYTE issue.
Basically speaking - electrolytes are the vitamins and minerals that tell the muscles how much to contract or relax - they help control the proper tension, so a depletion in one or multiple electrolytes cause weird symptoms. Usually muscle spasms, Charlie horses or weaknesses in athletes but can manifest different ways.
“But I drink a ton of water!”
Dehydration is always thought of as too little water but should more accurately be thought of as the ratio between water and electrolytes. Too much water with no electrolyte replenishing can mess you up ...the ratio is off. You sweat more than water, you need to put back in more than water. The most common electrolyte combo lost during exercise is sodium and chloride (salt). That's why your sweat is salty. This is why the majority of products designed to replace electrolytes are high in salt - the problem in the US is that we get plenty of salt and I personally feel electrolyte replenishers for most US athletes should be low salt.
My personal observation is that replenisher drinks do better when all the electrolytes are put back into the system at one time - think of it as topping off the levels. One mineral by itself (think "eat a banana" for low potassium) seems not to work as well or works slower than all at once, such as potassium with the host of all the others.
Sodium - Choride (together form typical table salt)
Magnesium - Potassium and Calcium are the macro essential electrolytes
Selenium - Zinc and Phosphorus the micro essential ones
Again, my professional opinion: every athlete should do a replenisher round of electrolytes for 2 weeks to a month, twice a year. (daily dose). Athletes doing a HUGE amount of work may need it much more frequently. The other factor to watch is that some of the main combos (magnesium and potassium) are not real stable very long in water - so that's why many of the full spectrum replenishers are in powder form and not on the shelf like GATORADE. I have looked at hundreds of combos of electrolytes and have formed my own opinion on a favorite brand. It contains all the electrolyes, low salt and is in a powder or pill (not pre-mixed.) Taste is an important factor for each individual. You can make your own electrolyte replenisher easily at home and cheaply (youtube) and pickle juice in a pinch is a great easily accessible replenisher although it is really high in salt.
Hammer is the brand we use at ASC, simple, complete, great ratio and cheap- less than 50 cents a day.
Hopefully this helps you get better faster and made a lot of sense. You can have your electrolytes tested with blood work but usually you will have symptoms at a subclinical level. A container of this stuff costs less than the test so I usually just tell people to try it and see if it helps. It’s not our only treatment, but it is a big part of getting back to optimal performance and quickly.