Electrolyte Replenishment: Pain Relief That’s Worth Its Salt?
Pain. Whether it’s from calf cramp or a sore back, if you’re serious about your fitness then at some point, pain inevitably enters the picture. Many of us turn to soft tissue therapies and self-myofascial release techniques in the hopes of easing aching joints and tight muscles. But what if there was another way to improve your performance and quality of life? It could be as simple as the choice of drink sitting at the bottom of your gym bag.
So what do electrolytes do?
Along with helping to keep us hydrated, electrolytes in our bodies are used for a range of different purposes; facilitating nerve impulses, healing, muscular contraction and relaxation, as well as providing the building blocks for energy sources (ATP) and regulating a plethora of enzymatic reactions essential to your overall wellness. Six key electrolytes vital to our body’s function that you can easily obtain through attention to your diet are Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Phosphate, Calcium and Magnesium.
Sodium along with Potassium is used for control of blood pressure and regulating cell hydration. Your muscles are 75% water, so maintaining the concentration of these two ions is essential to the optimal growth and repair of muscle tissue. Potassium also has an important role in facilitating nerve transmission and muscular function. With too little potassium (Hypokalemia), your muscles weaken and fatigue more easily, leaving you more susceptible to injury. In fact, deficiency in just one of these ions can contribute to a range of different pain pathologies, including headaches, increased muscle spasm and generalized bone pain, so be sure to incorporate nutrient-rich foods into your diet to maintain healthy electrolyte levels.
Staying hydrated can also be useful for easing stiff and painful joints. Along with being essential for homeostasis, water is critical to maintaining the smooth function of our joints. The Hyaline cartilage coating our joints has a high water content, which acts as a lubricant (in tandem with synovial fluid) allowing the bones to glide effortlessly over each other. These tissues are avascular, so without a blood supply, electrolytes are essential in directing nutrition to these areas; promoting the growth of new cartilage and reducing the effects of arthritis.
For those of us who are prone to cramp, it can be frustrating having to sit out time and again. However, by effectively maintaining your electrolyte balance, it may be possible to add a little more time to the clock, before pesky cramp rears its ugly head. A Study by Jung et. al. (2005) observed that, while electrolyte deficiency was not the sole cause of muscle cramping during exercise, electrolyte drinks consumed before and during your workout can be useful in delaying the onset of muscle cramp, enabling you to work harder, for longer.
While not a panacea, paying better attention to our electrolyte balance can certainly benefit most of us, not only in the gym or on the pitch, but also in our daily lives. So go forth, and continue taking your daily routine with maybe, just a pinch of salt.