Electrolytes – What Are They? What Do They Do?


An electrolyte is a substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in water. They are essential for a number of bodily functions. They are especially important to keto-adapted endurance athletes.

List of Electrolytes and what they do.

Well know electrolytes:

  • Sodium(Na+)

    • Salt: The most important electrolyte for keto-adapted athletes. Go by taste. If you feel like you are craving salty foods, add more salt. If you eat something that taste salty, back off of the salt. If you get too much sodium you will retain water, too little and you will get hyponatremia. Symptoms of hyponatremia may include excessive sweating, excessive hunger, feeling faint and fatigued.
  • Potassium(K+)

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about Potassium. If you are eating real food, you will get enough potassium. Found in meats and NoSalt (salt alternative). Potassium toxicity in the body (hyperkalemia) is rare, but can be fatal if not treated quickly, causing irregular heartbeat, paralysis of the lungs, and cardiac arrest. Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia), is more common. It is often caused by loss of water from severe vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms include muscle weakness and cramping.
  • Magnesium (Mg++)

    • Magnesium is essential for 300+ functions in the body. You can get magnesium in red meat, fish, and  eggs. High levels of the magnesium (hypermagnesemia) are relatively rare because the body is very efficient at expelling the excess, making it difficult to consume too much through diet. Magnesium toxicity can occur in cases of kidney failure or excessive supplementation, however, and may lead to nausea, vomiting, impaired breathing or irregular heartbeat. Hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency) is most commonly found in alcoholics because the kidneys excrete up to 260% more magnesium than normal after consuming alcohol, but the condition can also be caused by simple malnutrition. Symptoms include fatigue, convulsions, muscle spasms and numbness.
  • Calcium (Ca++)

    • Calcium can be found in bone broth, dairy items, and sardines. Too much calcium in the body, hypercalcemia, is pretty uncommon. It can come from excessive consumption of calcium-rich foods, certain bone diseases or extreme inactivity (e.g., quadriplegic/paraplegic conditions where the bones bear no weight). Symptoms may include digestive problems and nausea in minor cases, but can cause brain dysfunction, coma or even death in extreme instances. Moderate cases of hypocalcemia (too little calcium) may not cause immediate symptoms, but over time can also affect the brain, leading to delirium, memory loss and depression; severe cases may lead to muscle spasms, seizures and abnormal heart rhythms.

Less well known electrolytes:

  • Phosphate (HPO4–)

    • Sources of phosphorus are fish, poultry, beef, and dairy. The phosphate anion works closely with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, but it is also essential to energy production within cells, necessary for tissue growth and repair, and is a major building block for cell membranes and DNA.
    • Most people get the correct amount of phosphorus through their diets, but high levels of phosphate (hyperphosphatemia) are not uncommon and generally indicate kidney disease or calcium deficiency. Increased phosphate in the body has also been associated to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Hypophosphatemia (phosphate deficiency) is much less common, but occurs most frequently in alcoholics and people with Crohn’s or celiac disease. Symptoms of hypophosphatemia include joint pain, weakened bones, fatigue and irregular breathing.
  • Bicarbonate (HCO3-)

    • The exhaust our body produces when we hit our lactate threshold. Our bodies rely on a sophisticated buffering system to maintain proper pH levels. Lungs regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the body, most of which is combined with water and converted to carbonic acid (H2CO3). This carbonic acid can then be quickly converted to bicarbonate (HCO3-), which is the key component in the pH buffer.
  • Chloride (Cl-)

    • A trace mineral that is in mineral salt (Himalayan Salt, Celtic Salt, or other mineral salt). Chloride toxicity (hyperchloremia) and deficiency (hypochloremia) are both rarities, but can occur due to other electrolyte imbalances. Symptoms may include respiratory difficulty and pH imbalance.


Electrolytes are a vital part of a feeling and performing well. Monitor how you feel after workouts and throughout the day. If you feel faint or unwell after a workout, this could be why.

Monitoring how you feel after workouts can help you determine if your electrolytes are where they should be. Check-in with yourself after intense exercise or sweating profusely. This will ensure that your body stays in balance.

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Coach Stephanie

Hi, My name is Coach Stephanie Holbrook. I learned how to regain my health and turn back the clock. I now help endurance athletes show you everything you need to maximize health, performance and a younger feeling body.

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