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Electrolytes for Muscle Recovery | Dr. Millie Lytle


nutrition articles

Electrolytes for Muscle Recovery

Written by Millie Lytle, ND, MPH, CNS

When you flex your muscles, your body needs calcium in order to produce a contraction. When you relax your muscles, it requires magnesium instead. When your heart pumps, calcium is needed for the contraction to increase blood pressure, while magnesium is required for the relaxation of the muscle, which reduces blood pressure. When you sweat, you lose water. When people think of hydration they tend to think of water alone but some hormones regulate water and hydration with the help of key minerals called electrolytes.

The more you sweat, the more electrolytes you lose, so the more you need to replenish these important alkaline minerals. From a chemistry perspective, electrolytes are substances like acid, base and salts that conduct electricity in their liquid solution due to ionization.1 In the blood, urine, intra- and extracellular fluid, it is the presence of ions (charged elements) in solution that's responsible for the conduction of electricity. Hormones produced by the kidneys and adrenal glands such as rennin, angiotensin, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone secrete electrolytes based on the presence of water and key minerals, sodium and potassium.1 When the body is dehydrated of water and minerals, we get thirsty.

What Do Electrolytes Do?

  • Electrolytes maintain the charge across cell membranes of nerve, heart and muscle cells, which further carry electrical impulses (such as nerve impulses and muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells.
  • Electrolytes keep us hydrated, with proper water and blood volume. Excess hydration is released in urine.

When Do We Lose Electrolytes?

  • During daily normal muscle contractions
  • Through normal process of heartbeat and heart rhythm
  • Through sweat, vomiting, urine, and diarrhea

When you exercise, your muscle fibers are tearing and repairing themselves. During the repair process, the muscle builds and produces lactic acid. Acid is buffered alkalizing electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain alkaline pH and hydration, first in the intestines and then in the rest of the blood and tissues. Electrolytes include magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and bicarbonate. Taking a multi-mineral dietary supplement significantly increases the pH of the blood and urine. Adequate levels of magnesium, potassium and calcium in the blood are beneficial to address muscle cramping, charley horses and nerve pain. Atypical muscle contraction, such as arrhythmia, is also reduced with magnesium.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center reports that the cellular pH in resting skeletal muscle is typically 7.15.2 During exercise, as alkalizing minerals are utilized, pH falls in proportion to the intensity of the exercise. Lactic acid concentrations along with carbon dioxide contribute to the more acidic pH, which falls as low as 6.57.2 Electrolyte minerals are required to normalize the pH following exercise. If a balance of magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium are not replenished adequately, this leaves electrolyte deficits that can contribute to abnormal muscle function. Based on the normal physiology of the skeletal muscles, as well as the heart muscle, muscles require a substantial concentration of available alkalizing minerals to fire and function smoothly, maintain regular blood flow to the cell, and reduce tension. In an acidic environment, the inflammatory response of muscles can lead to lack of recovery and other symptoms including pain, numbness, and even paralysis (tetany). For instance, increasing potassium and magnesium levels through supplementation can reduce muscle pain and tension in people with Gitelman’s Syndrome, a genetic metabolic alkalosis characterized by low blood potassium, low urinary calcium and low blood magnesium3, as well as people with normal mineral physiology. Thiazide diuretics can also cause these same muscle symptoms.3

Blood pressure physiology involves the mineral balance of sodium, potassium, magnesium, chlorine and calcium. Health promotion efforts from public health departments have highlighted the importance for the population to eat a low-salt diet, but have not emphasized the importance to balance salt intake with more alkalizing minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. When these minerals are relatively low in the diet, the negative effects of too much salt become dire. In an acidic environment, blood pressure rises, heart beat becomes irregular and cardiac events can result. Increasing potassium and magnesium levels through supplementation can nutritionally support the over-excitability of the heart3. Men who die of a sudden ischemic heart attack have been shown to have very low levels of magnesium and potassium in the heart muscle as compared to others who had a heart attack, but who did not die4, suggesting that death as a result of cardiac arrest could be dependent on levels of electrolytes available. Ironically, it is diuretics that are prescribed for high blood pressure, which have the same known action of eliminating potassium as well as magnesium. The sudden magnesium deficiency as a result of diuretics could be the main cause of sudden death in heart failure patients5.

Signs of Electrolyte Deficiency:

  • Not having a daily bowel movement
  • Kidney stones
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Seizure disorder
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

You are at risk for having an electrolyte deficiency if you drink alcohol, regularly vomit or have diarrhea, take a diuretic, do not consume several servings of green veggies per day, or sweat without replenishing your minerals. Most sports recovery drinks do not supply sufficient potassium and magnesium to replenish levels. Additionally, Potassium is the only mineral that is not legally sold as a dietary supplement in levels that represent the RDA or minimum daily value recommendation. The RDA of potassium is 4700mg per day, whereas the highest amount allowed to be sold in a capsule is 99mg. Fortunately, InVite®’s Scientific Director, Jerry Hickey has realized that if potassium is formulated into a powder, a much higher amount can be consumed (1000mg per scoop). Solving electrolyte deficiency can be very easy – but it won’t happen on its own. Many of us have been told to avoid over-consumption of salt, sodium or chloride, but the doctors rarely tell you to load up on potassium and magnesium as well. Carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks can have a significant role on energy balance during exercise. One study looked at the effect of oral carbohydrate-electrolyte supplementation on sports performance and cardiovascular status of national level male athletes during exercise and recovery. Results shows significant improvements in total endurance time, heart rate responses, and blood lactic acid during exercise at 70 percent max after the supplementation. Significant improvement in cardiovascular responses, blood glucose and lactic acid removal were noted during recovery following the electrolyte drink6.

To sum all this up, every time you lose body fluids in excess, you ought to be thinking about how to replenish not only water, but especially the minerals that regulate our hydration- potassium and magnesium.


  3. Yildiz MYildiz BSKarakoyun SCakal SSahin AAladag NB. The effects of serum potassium and magnesium levels in a patient with Gitelman's syndrome on the timing of ventricular wall motion and the pattern of ventricular strain and torsion. Echocardiography. 2013 Feb;30(2):E47-50.
  4. Johnson CJPeterson DRSmith EK. Myocardial tissue concentrations of magnesium and potassium in men dying suddenly from ischemic heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1979 May;32(5):967-70
  6. Khanna GLManna I. Supplementary effect of carbohydrate-electrolyte drink on sports performance, lactate removal & cardiovascular response of athletes. Indian J Med Res. 2005 May;121(5):665-9.


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