By: Debbie Stevenson
Most exercisers can get away with gulping water after a workout, but endurance athletes – anyone training for a marathon or playing hours of tennis in the hot sun, like Roger Federer (tennis is my passion!)-- needs to put extra effort into replenishing the minerals flushed out by sweat. Sure, electrolytes come standard in sports drinks and energy bars, but they’re usually accompanied by a hearty helping of calories and added sugar. A better way to replenish the electrically charged particles needed to maintain fluid balance in the body and aid the muscle and nerve functions necessary for athletic performance: Pick up a spoon and fork. “Foods contain so many more electrolytes, as well as vitamins and other health-protective compounds,” says author and sports dietitian Nancy Clark, RD.
Here’s how to replace five key electrolytes with healthy, whole foods.
We’ve been told to just say no to sodium, but it’s the electrolyte we lose in the highest concentration when we sweat. Salt helps the body hold on to water, keeping you hydrated for a longer period of time. Still, there’s no need to down an entire bag of pretzels after working out. You can easily replace the 800 mg of sodium lost in two pounds of sweat during a hard hour-long workout by enjoying a recovery snack of chocolate milk and a slice of whole grain bread with organic peanut butter.
Typically paired with sodium, chloride is found in table salt and processed foods like deli meats, condiments, canned soup, and potato chips–and like salt, it’s typically not lacking in the American diet. However I am not suggesting you eat processed foods. This mineral, which is needed to maintain fluid balance, blood volume, blood pressure, and body fluid pH levels, is also lost in high concentrations via sweat. So skip the snack food aisle and replenish chloride with whole food sources such as olives, seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, and celery.
For a portable, potassium-rich post workout snack, pick fresh or dried fruits like oranges, melons, raisins, or dried apricots. During an hour of hard training, you might lose 200 to 600 mg of potassium, which supports cell and heart function, regulates blood pressure, prevents bone loss and kidney stones, and plays a vital role in muscle contraction. To replenish, snacking on a medium to large banana (450 to 600 mg of potassium) is a great option. Other whole foods rich in potassium include baked and sweet potatoes, plain yogurt, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, peas, white beans, and avocado.
Milk may not seem like the best courtside companion, but researchers at McMaster University in the UK found that the calcium-rich beverage does a better job than water or sports drinks at rehydrating the body after a workout. Why? Milk delivers a mix of carbohydrates, calcium, sodium, and potassium, along with high-quality protein, which aids muscle recovery. Aim to include calcium-rich foods like cheese, yogurt, milk (regular or soy), sardines, fortified orange juice, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens, non-GMO soybeans each day.
Along with calcium, magnesium aids muscle contraction, nerve function, enzyme activation, and bone development. To replenish stores of this mineral after exercise, eat leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, organic peanut butter (I grind my own at the health food store), dried beans, and lentils as often as possible. The added benefit: Magnesium helps fight fatigue. When you’re low on this mineral, your body demands more oxygen–and energy–during physical activity, and therefore you tire more quickly.
Skip sugary sports drinks and opt for nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains to replace minerals lost during strenuous workouts or exercise. Here’s to more energy!
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DEBBIE STEVENSON - Nutrition
Debbie Stevenson is a leading nutrition and whole living expert teaching women around the world not just how to live well, but how to become the absolute best version of themselves. As a certified health coach, blogger and successful entrepreneur, cultivating the ideal lifestyle isn't her passion; it's her life. Find her free recipes, wellness tips and online nutrition programs at Debbie Stevenson and join her on Facebook for daily healthy living inspirations.
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