If you’re training for less than an hour at a low intensity, then you can probably get away with gulping down some water after a workout. But for those of us who are exercising for longer bouts of time, drinking water isn’t enough to replenish all of the electrolytes lost during a hard workout.
Fortunately, you can eat whole foods with electrolytes to replenish your body of the nutrients it needs and aid muscle and nerve functions necessary for athletic performance.
Here, we outline the five key electrolytes you need to know about, and the foods you can eat to replace them.
Why Runner’s Should Eat Foods With Electrolytes—and Which Electrolytes You Need
Depending on your exercise plan for any given day, you might want to replenish your body with sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium pre- or postworkout, or both. And to do this you don’t necessarily need a salt tablet, energy drink, or bar.
Instead, you can rely on foods with electrolytes, including those listed below. “Foods contain so many electrolytes, as well as vitamins and other health-protective compounds,” says author and sports dietitian Nancy Clark, R.D.
We’re often told to pass on excess sodium, but it’s the electrolyte we lose in the highest concentration when we sweat. Salt helps the body hold on to water, keeping you hydrated for a longer period of time. Still, there’s no need to down an entire bag of pretzels postworkout.
“You can easily replace the [estimated] 800 mg of sodium lost in two pounds of sweat during a hard, hour-long workout by enjoying a recovery snack of chocolate milk and a bagel with peanut butter,” says Clark. Athletes can also consume a salty meal like soup a few hours before a strenuous sweat session, so their bodies are better equipped to retain fluid and maintain hydration throughout exercise, she adds.
- 2 ounces (the size of a mini snack bag) of mini pretzels with hummus
- one slice of whole grain or spouted bread with no-sugar-added peanut butter
- cup of chicken and vegetable or lentil soup
Typically paired with sodium, chloride is found in table salt and processed foods such as deli meats, condiments, canned soup, and potato chips—and like salt, it’s typically not lacking in the American diet. The mineral, which is needed to maintain fluid balance, blood volume, blood pressure, and body fluid pH levels, is also lost in high concentrations via sweat. Skip the snack food aisle and replenish chloride with healthier, whole food sources.
- rye crackers or slice of bread
During an hour of hard training, you might lose 200 to 600 mg of potassium, which supports cell and heart function, regulates blood pressure, prevents bone loss and kidney stones, and plays a vital role in muscle contraction. To replenish, Clark suggests snacking on a medium to large banana, which contains 450 to 600 mg of potassium. For other portable, potassium-rich postworkout snacks, options include:
- fresh or dried fruits such as oranges, melons, raisins, or prunes
- salad or grain bowl with potassium-rich foods such as baked sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, peas, beans, and avocado.
Milk may not seem like the most obvious option to drink postworkout, but the calcium-rich beverage delivers a mix of carbohydrates, calcium, sodium, and potassium, along with high-quality protein, which aids muscle recovery. Aim to include calcium-rich foods each day, Clark advises.
- glass of milk (regular or soy) or chocolate milk
- small bowl of whole grain, low-sugar cereal and milk
- yogurt topped with fresh fruit
- latte or coffee with milk
Along with calcium, magnesium aids muscle contraction, nerve function, enzyme activation, and bone development. The added benefit: Magnesium helps fight fatigue. When you’re low on the mineral, your body demands more oxygen—and energy—during physical activity, and therefore you tire more quickly, according to researchers at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service. So loading up on magnesium prerace can be a key to performance success. To replenish stores of the mineral after exercise, Clark suggests the below options:
- leafy green vegetables
- whole grains
- peanut butter
- dried beans