Stay Salty.

How Electrolytes Can Make or Break You.

Have you ever ‘bonked’ during a workout or felt an imbalance in your body during exercise or even in your daily life routine? If so, there’s a chance that you may have an electrolyte imbalance (low electrolytes).

For many, when you hear the term electrolytes, your mind may immediately go to popular sports drinks because these products have all but claimed this term as their own. The image of a pro athlete taking a gulp of colorful juice and sweating out that same color has long been cemented in the minds of millions as the best way to replace electrolytes.

While bringing awareness to this feeling of crashing during and after exercise is important, it is even more imperative to let people know what electrolytes are, why they are so important, and what can happen to the body when there are imbalances.

That’s where I come in.

My name is Ben Light. I am an elite endurance athlete and professional strength endurance coach local to Wasatch County. I’ve also experienced the devastating effects of an electrolyte imbalance firsthand.

Now, before I share a story with you about a time when I found myself in a scary electrolyte-less situation, here’s a quick rundown on what electrolytes are.

There are seven different types of electrolytes found in the body: sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. And much like the name, electrolyte, suggests, there is electricity involved. Each of these elements has a positive and negative electrical charge, and when there is an imbalance in any of them, it can cause you to feel tired, have muscle aches, dehydration, and even limited brain and body function.

Several years ago, I experienced all these symptoms and more while running a 200-mile race in the Washington Cascades. The race was called the Bigfoot 200, and I was in the best shape of my life. At the beginning of the race, I was putting together my pack, and I had my electrolytes in a baggy. I don’t know exactly what happened, but when it came time to put on my pack, somehow, I missed putting my bag of electrolytes in the pocket of my pack.

I hadn’t noticed that I didn’t have my supply of electrolytes until after I left the first aid station at mile 12. All I could do was push on and hope for the best. I was fine for a few more miles since, during that section of the race, I was running under a large canopy of trees, shaded from the elements. However, as we entered what is called the blast zone, an area that resembles what I might imagine the moon or a devastated war zone to look like due to a volcanic eruption in the area in 1980, reports showed that it was 110 degrees.

While running through the blast zone, I was in a solid third place against some elite athletes, but I started to cramp. Even though I had plenty of water, I didn’t have extra electrolytes, and I soon found myself lying on the side of the trail with both legs completely locked up.

Most everyone was suffering in this section; however, several runners were gracious enough to hand me the electrolytes they could spare. But I was so far depleted of electrolytes that my imbalance was to the extreme. None of us realized how hot it was going to be, and we had a good distance to go before we would get to a natural spring where we could refill our waters. But even in the natural spring, I still didn’t have any electrolytes. I could only intake water, and that wasn’t going to solve the issue.

Here is where I am going to pause my story to tell you about  the relationship between electrolytes and water.

Water is a critical element in the body’s ability to absorb electrolytes since it is the very thing that dissolves them and gives them their negative and positive charges to conduct ‘electricity.’ Additionally, your body needs electrolytes to retain water, and without them, there is a threat of dehydration.

And while there are trace amounts of electrolytes in non-distilled water, solely drinking water will not provide you with enough electrolytes — especially while participating in an extreme exercise like I was.

Getting back to my story: after refilling at the spring, I was able to make it another 10 miles to the next aid station, but my muscles were still locked up, and I was starting to feel extremely nauseous and began throwing up. I was so dehydrated, even though I had water. I felt like my body was falling apart, and I ended up being medically pulled from the race by the medics to avoid any further damage to my body.

That night, I was able to get electrolytes to help my body recover, and the next day I felt amazing! I ended up returning to the race and pacing other participants over another 100 miles. I even helped one gentleman who helped me make it to that spring to get water when I was struggling earlier in the race.

It was truly amazing to see the immediate shift in my body and mind once I was able to replenish it with the right balance of electrolytes.

What is the right amount of electrolytes?

It’s a fact that my experience above is extreme, but an electrolyte imbalance can happen to anyone simply because it’s all about ratios.

If you are doing an activity that is causing you to sweat (lose electrolytes), then finding ways to replace those is going to put things back in check. These activities could include being outside gardening for several hours, playing pickleball with your buddies or even spending a day at the beach with your kids. The key is paying attention to the signs your body is giving you that it’s a little off balance, and making sure to get it back on track.

According to Recommended Daily Allowances, each person is recommended to have 1,600 to 2,000 mg of electrolytes per day. That amount increases with physical activity and environmental conditions.

To put this in perspective, there are 160 mg of sodium and 45 mg of potassium per 12-fluid-ounce serving of normal sports drinks, not to mention 23 g of sugar. Simply put, a sports drink is well BELOW the allowance needed, and especially low for those actively losing electrolytes through exercise.

As an endurance athlete and coach who has experienced the extremes that can come from not having balanced electrolytes, it has been important for me to find natural products that I can use and that I can recommend to those I work with.

One company I recommend is Redmond Re-Lyte Electrolytes. Redmond is a local company based right here in Heber City that uses salt mined from the earth in its electrolyte products with zero added sugar.

Whether you are outside gardening, playing with your kids, working out in the gym, running a 5K or even a 200-mile endurance run, paying close attention to your electrolytes, and keeping them balanced may very well be a key to having the energy you need to keep going — and perhaps helping others also reach their goals.

For more helpful tips or inquiries for personal training, coaching, or to just follow along with me on my many endurance and training adventures, I can be found on Instagram @adventure.your.potential or visit my website

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