I have been worried for some time that I don't have enough electrolytes in my diet/routine. I have frequent muscle cramps and my neurologist told me to take magnesium - an important electrolyte. I wanted to collect some information. I don't sweat a lot when working out, so I am not worried about losing electrolytes then, but I do dehydrate and pass out from time to time, so I wonder about other electrolytes and whether I need to replenish others, not just magnesium.
Here is some information I have started collecting to help talk to my doctors and decide what to do.
I used elicit.org, a GPT-3 powered search engine to comb the scientific literature. What a variety of conclusions! Some studies conclude water is the right supplement, some electrolyte drinks, and there was even one study that concluded milk-based products were the best supplements. I still don't know what to do, but I think the important thing is to do what is necessary to get the electrolytes within proper levels.
1. The major electrolytes are sodium, potassium and chloride.
This surprised me. I guess it suggests that one should have some salt in your diet. I never use salt. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7965369/ gives this list. The Cleveland Clinic - who I would also trust - says the big three are sodium, potassium and magnesium.
2. Sodium and Potassium are the most often discussed electrolytes, and Magnesium is often overlooked.
Magnesium is needed for normal nerve and muscle function. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7965369/
3. While the lungs regulate the amount of carbon dioxide, the kidneys regulate the amount of bicarbonate (HCO3), another electrolyte.
4. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you are working out for an hour or less, plain tap water should do.
Consider an electrolyte drink for workouts of 75 minutes or more. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/electrolyte-drinks-beneficial-or-not/#:~:text=The%20right%20amount%20of%20electrolytes,dehydration%20and%20feel%20pretty%20lousy.
5. Also, the Cleveland Clinic information also says that the big three electrolytes are sodium, potassium and magnesium, NOT chloride.
By combining the literature, it seems that no one can agree on electrolyte supplements. The best thing, probably, is a mineral-rich diet with electrolyte drinks way down the list. Diet issues are discussed here: https://journals.flvc.org/edis/article/view/106678
6. The signs of an electrolyte imbalance are cramps, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and mental confusion.
The only symptom I do not experience is an irregular heartbeat. The bad thing is that if your electrolyte levels are too high, you can experience cramps dizziness or irregular heartbeat. I think it is hard to get electrolytes balanced correctly. Eat a balanced diet rich in minerals and drink plenty of water and I suspect none of this will be a problem.
When cramps are happening is the time to supplement the diet with electrolyte supplements. The scientific literature is inconclusive as to the benefit, but the one consistent finding I found was that for shorter exercise periods (less than 75 minutes), water is the best supplement. I experience my symptoms of cramps or dehydration in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, so one strategy might be to take electrolyte supplements until the symptoms