Ways To Get Your Electrolytes (These Are Not Sports Drinks)
When we talk about “getting enough electrolytes” we usually mean the big three: Sodium, potassium and magnesium. There are many others out there, including calcium, chloride, and bicarbonate, but the big three are the ones that supplement and sports nutrition companies focus on.
This is partly because sodium in particular, but also potassium and magnesium, is lost through sweat. Athletes need to replenish these electrolytes during and after hard workouts or endurance training to ensure optimal hydration and performance. Sodium and potassium work together to control fluid levels throughout the body and facilitate muscle contractions and nerve fires. Magnesium is crucial for cellular energy production and the transport of sodium and potassium through cell membranes.
I won’t go into great detail about the other functions of electrolytes in the body as Mark recently covered the topic in his post Electrolytes 101. Suffice it to say that if you do not maintain proper electrolyte levels, you will find yourself in a world of injury.
Should I take electrolyte supplements?
Not everyone needs to supplement with electrolytes, but everyone needs to get the right amount. Your kidneys do a good job of keeping electrolytes in balance by holding back or excreting certain electrolytes as needed. However, the kidneys can only do their job if you supply enough electrolytes to begin with, and there is the friction. Even prehistoric humans who consume abundant products and animal products can have difficulties in getting enough electrolytes from their food due to the mineral-poor soil. Paleo godfather Loren Cordain speculates that potassium intake in particular falls short of our biological needs.
Also, once you’ve jumped on the ketogenic train, you’ll need more electrolytes than the average person. As you decrease your carbohydrate intake, insulin secretion decreases accordingly. This triggers ketone production as well as a quick electrolyte flush. Failure to replenish lost electrolytes, especially sodium, is likely the main culprit behind the dreaded keto flu.
Sports drinks aren’t the best way to increase your electrolyte intake, however. Most of them are primarily intended to provide energy (read: sugar) and moisture. They likely don’t offer the amount of electrolytes you want and usually contain other unwanted ingredients that you don’t need. Fortunately, it’s easy to increase your electrolyte intake with better, more primary-friendly sources.
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How Much Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium Do You Need?
Sodium: The current recommended daily allowance for adults is 1,500 mg per day, but this is unlikely to be enough for most people. The sweet spot seems to be between 4 and 6 grams per day in adults without salt-sensitive high blood pressure or kidney disease.
Potassium: The FDA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDI) is 4,700 mg per day.
Magnesium: For adult women 310 mg per day up to the age of 30, then 320 mg per day. For adult men 400 mg per day up to the age of 30, then 420 mg per day.
Electrolyte Requirements From Keto Dieters
Keto dieters should aim to:
- 3 to 5 grams (3,000 to 5,000 mg) sodium
- 1 to 3.5 g (1,000 to 3,500 mg) potassium
- 300 to 500 mg of magnesium
These are in addition to what you get from your meal. If you are already getting at least the RDI of potassium from your diet, you can choose not to add any more. As I said, however, you are unlikely to get enough consistent.
How to get electrolytes without sports drinks
Start with food
Getting electrolytes from your diet is preferable to supplementation. Start by estimating your typical daily electrolyte intake, ideally by tracking your food for a few days using an app. I prefer cronometers, but any app that provides detailed nutritional information will do. Don’t forget to keep track of drinks too.
If you find that you are not meeting your goals, try adding more electrolyte-rich foods first, and then supplementing as needed.
How To Include Sodium In Your Diet
(Note: All of the following nutritional information comes from the cronometer.)
Bacon and other sausages, tinned fish, or salted nuts can add up to a few hundred mg of sodium per serving. Smaller amounts occur naturally in some products such as beets and carrots, as well as in seaweed and fresh seafood. Dairy products also contain sodium, and even your drinking water does a little bit of it.
By and large, most of the sodium you use up in a day comes from the salt you add to your food. Different types of salt contain different amounts of sodium. A teaspoon of sea salt contains around 2,100 to 2,300 mg of sodium, while a teaspoon of kosher salt only contains between 1,100 and 1,900 mg.
Uressers should feel free to add generous amounts of salt to their food. Your food will taste better when you do it! Adding a generous pinch of salt to your drinking water will also improve the body’s ability to absorb the water so you can stay hydrated. (Add a pinch of lemon to mask the taste.)
Foods rich in potassium
Primitive eaters usually do not include many of the foods richest in potassium in their diet: legumes, dried fruits, bananas. Do not worry! A medium-sized banana contains 422 grams in a medium-sized fruit. There are plenty of primal-friendly options that beat it. Here is just a selection:
- Avocado (1 whole, 136 g): 690 mg
- Mussels, cooked (10 small, 100 g): 628 mg
- Butternut squash (1 cup diced, 205 g): 582 mg
- Spinach, raw (3 cups, 90 g): 502 mg
- Beets, cooked (1 cup diced, 157 g): 479 mg
These don’t beat bananas, but they still get honorable mentions:
- Coconut water (8 ounces, 240 ml): 410 mg
- Ground beef, 85% lean, raw (4 ounces, 113 g): 333 mg
- Sockeye Salmon, Raw (3 ounces, 85 g): 306 mg
- Canned anchovies (Wild Planet brand, one can, 85 g): 235 mg
- Broccoli, raw (1 cup chopped, 91 g): 288 mg
Potatoes are still controversial in the area of ancestral health, but they contain more potassium than any of the foods listed above. One medium baked potato (131 g) contains 512 mg of potassium. If you eat the skin, you will get an additional 400 mg! If you don’t want to eat white potatoes and aren’t aiming for very low carbohydrate intake, a medium-sized sweet potato (150g) provides 713 mg of potassium.
However, as you can see, reaching the RDI of 4,700 mg per day is quite difficult even if you eat a lot of these relatively high potassium foods.
Best foods for magnesium
With magnesium and potassium, you can get some of most basic foods. Some of the foods that are higher in magnesium are:
- Almonds, dry roasted (¼ cup, 35 g): 96 mg
- Spinach, raw (3 cups, 90 g): 71 mg
- Pumpkin seeds, toasted (¼ cup, 16 g): 42 mg
- Chia seeds (1 tbsp, 10 g): 39 mg
- Avocado (1 whole, 136 g): 39 mg
- Sockeye Salmon, Raw (3 ounces, 85 g): 23 mg
Remember, you don’t need nearly as much magnesium as potassium or sodium.
Top up the electrolytes as needed
You can buy magnesium and potassium as individual supplements. Also, check your daily multivitamin / multimineral formula to see how much you’re getting there.
The easiest way to add sodium is from good ol ‘salt. Losalt is a low-sodium salt that contains 1800 mg of potassium and 688 mg of sodium per teaspoon.
You can also buy electrolyte powders to add to the water. Read the labels to see how much sodium, potassium, and magnesium you are getting with each product and to make sure no sugar has been added. Some products do not contain all three electrolytes, which may or may not be desirable depending on your needs. Others contain all three, but in small amounts. My personal favorite is LMNT, which has good amounts of the big three in the right proportions.
What about baking soda?
Some evidence suggests that baking soda is anti-inflammatory and can help cushion acidosis, which is why it’s growing in popularity among athletes and people with autoimmune problems. It also appears to boost ketone production.
The chemical formula for baking is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). A quarter of a teaspoon contains 315 mg of sodium and bicarbonate, another electrolyte. The downside to using baking soda as a supplement is that if you overdo it, it can lead to significant GI problems. Start small!
A note on safe addition
It’s almost impossible to overdo your electrolyte intake when you talk about the minerals that are naturally found in real foods. Completing, however, is a different story. With any electrolyte, problems can arise if you ingest too much. This is why I suggest tracking your food intake first so you know how much more of each you actually need.
Excess potassium, in particular, can lead to irregular heartbeat. When taken properly, potassium supplements are generally considered safe for adults whose kidneys are healthy. As always, ask your doctor if you’re not sure if they are right for you.
About the author
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is Senior Writer and Community Manager at Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach and co-author of three keto cookbooks.
Lindsay is the author of Marks Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance community. Its job is to help people learn the what, why, and how of a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her Masters and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and educator.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sport-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping and game nights. Follow @theusefuldish on Instagram as Lindsay tries to balance work, family and cardio exercise while maintaining a healthy balance and, most importantly, enjoying life. For more information, visit lindsaytaylor.co.
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