We all know, thanks to Gatorade’s marketing, that Electrolytes are important. Here we’ll break down the state of the art Electrolytes bioscience and why sugary “sports drinks” are not the best way to supplement them.
They have been studied worldwide, on Pubmed you can find nearly 450 human clinical trials on the common Electrolytes which are recognized as crucial to ketogenic diet and lifestyle, there are over 60 published scientific papers looking at the connection, which we’ll also summarize here.
The Truth about Electrolytes and Keto
Electrolytes are what your Ketogenic body craves! We all know, thanks to Gatorade's marketing, that Electrolytes are…
Are you electrolyte deficient?
The symptoms to expect from the corresponding electrolyte deficiencies…
- Sodium — Fatigue, Weakness, Headaches, Difficulty concentrating.
- Potassium — Muscle cramps or twitching, Heart palpitations, heightened awareness of the heartbeat.
- Magnesium — Muscle twitching or cramping in the evening or after exercise.
When people switch to a healthier, ketogenic diet they can sometimes suffer from an electrolyte deficiency because their bodies start excreting more of the major electrolytes, Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium. You’ll be peeing out more of these electrolytes than you do usually resulting in deficiency symptoms. This can be exacerbated by vigorous exercise that a lot of people are starting along with their new keto diet, because the more you sweat the more electrolytes you lose via perspiration. Fortunately, electrolyte supplementation is simple was to address this deficiency.
Vs “Keto Flu”
So you hear about this “Keto Thing” and decide to give it a go, and upon cutting down on carbs you frustratingly experience nausea, fatigue, an upset stomach, brain fog, and lethargy — you’ve got Keto Flu! Often this can be resolved by increasing electrolyte intake. If the Keto Flu persists, don’t give up. Typically it lasts less than a week as your body will become more accustomed to running off fat as opposed to carbs. You may also want to up your dietary salt intake, many of us were sold this myth that salt is bad (which has been proven false) and just don’t consume a lot of salt. This is problematic because sodium is one of the main things that gets washed out of the body in greater quantities when you go Keto.
Is a pretty important part of the keto lifestyle. Whether you’re doing an intermittent daily fast, a 24-hour fast, or a multi-day fast, you need to be mindful of your electrolytes. Fasting really flushes a lot of sodium out of your system. So supplement extra electrolytes during fasts and you’ll notice yourself feeling more normal.
Chronic Electrolyte Deficiency is NO JOKE
Electrolyte deficiency results in sodium disorders like hyponatremia and hypernatremia, potassium disorders like Hypokalemia. Extreme electrolyte deficiency is actually one of the very few ways that you can kill yourself fasting, though this is very rare.
Because exercise flushes more electrolytes out of your body, if you’re on the Keto diet, supplement extra Electrolytes on workout days.
Almost every athlete knows that electrolytes prevent painful muscle cramps and spasms. I wish I’d known this when I lived in Colombia, spent many nights vigorously dancing, and would often wake up in the middle of the night with a painful muscle cramp in my leg (especially after having a bit to drink).
Funnily enough, I found a Chilean study relevant to this, which measured the effects of beer consumption before exercise compared with non-alcoholic beer. The non-alcoholic beer helped maintain electrolyte homeostasis during exercise (or salsa dancing!) while the normal beer depleted sodium. The study concluded
…non-alcoholic beer can be considered an effective pre-exercise hydration beverage.
So try drinking non-alcoholic beer if you go out dancing, it doesn’t taste awful. But you don’t have to chug an electrolyte-infused sports drink (or non-alcoholic beer) to prevent cramps this effect, an American study concluded that…
electrolyte consumption independent of hydration can influence cramp susceptibility in young people.
So powdered or supplemental electrolytes are fine.
So does this all mean that we should be chugging Gatorade or Powerade daily? Probably not, these drinks often contain a whopping dose of sugar, which certainly makes them taste great, I remember nearly two decades ago when my High School’s vending machines switched from selling Pepsi and Mountain Dew to Gatorade because it was “healthier” — I remember thinking Hmm… This Gatorade is as sweet as the soda. Is this really healthier? Of course not! An 8-ounce plastic bottle of Gatorade has 14 grams of sugar, which will certainly throw you out of a ketogenic state, spiking your blood sugar. There are sugar-free sports drinks but they often use problematic artificial sweeteners, harmful artificial coloring to give the drink that cartoonish, attention-grabbing color, and of course the hormone-disrupting BPAs from that cheap plastic bottle that fits so nicely in your hand. Unless you’re crossing the Sahara, pass on sports drinks!
Should you eat more salt?
There are certainly worse things than salt, salt is a crucial nutrient that your ancestors consumed a lot of, before refrigerators that’s how meat was preserved. But, I wouldn’t drastically increase my salt intake because it’s not my favorite taste, and the salt you find for sale on store shelves is questionable, things that you can buy for just a few bucks packed in airtight plastic tend to contain preservatives and are rife with toxins, byproducts of the manufacturing process that makes it so cheap in the first place. I’d also be a bit suspicious of that pretty pink organic sea salt because (newsflash!) the world’s oceans are badly polluted, humanity has deemed it a great idea to dump vast amounts of plastic into the ocean so even with the “natural” sea salt you’re getting some nasty “microplastics”. If you can find a lab-verified pure source of salt, sprinkle that on liberally but a good electrolyte supplement is a more reliable source of the sodium that you crucially need to unleash ketogenic awesomeness.