Electrolytes under investigation

There are many discussions in sport, and people disagree on many topics, but one thing everyone seems to accept as common knowledge is that electrolytes are important. At the same time, it is also seems to be common knowledge that too much salt (or sodium) is not good for you… But aren’t electrolytes and salt just different names for the same thing?

Function of electrolytes infographic

We have probably all read how, if you sweat heavily and you see white salty marks on your clothing or skin, you are a “salty sweater” - a person who loses a lot of salt during exercise. Those individuals especially are often encouraged to take salt tablets, or at least an electrolyte-replacement drink. Electrolytes are recommended left, right and centre, and they’re a big business: you can get electrolyte drinks, dissolvable tablets, capsules or even chewing gum. In addition, electrolytes are sprinkled into many other products like energy gels and bars.

Do electrolytes improve performance?

Athletes worry they do not consume enough electrolytes during exercise. But let’s first go back to the question of WHY we would need electrolytes in the first place? Or even the question: do we need electrolytes at all? Many athletes have this belief that electrolytes are supposed to help performance, but how many studies do we have that show that this is the case? You will be shocked by the answer!

What is the evidence that electrolytes work?

I asked several people including Professor Ron Maughan and other leading researchers who spend a lot of their impressive careers researching sodium, but they couldn’t point me in the direction of articles that provided convincing evidence. So, I decided to start a series of blogs to address these questions and I have asked Dr Alan McCubbin to help, as he is one of the few researchers who has done extensive work in this area recently.

In the following series of blog posts, we will have a look at common beliefs and what the actual evidence is. In this first blog we will start with discussing what salt is, what electrolytes are and what is the role of sodium and some other electrolytes.