Author: James O’Sullivan • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • July 20, 2022
If you’re struggling with low energy levels during your workouts, you may have already tried increasing your calorie intake, consuming energy drinks, or getting more sleep at night to resolve the issue.
It might surprise you to know that your low energy levels could result from an electrolyte imbalance — but just what are electrolytes, and how do they give you energy?
Electrolytes are minerals that carry a positive or negative charge and conduct electricity when dissolved in water.
The body contains six different types of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, chloride, magnesium, and phosphorus. Each of these electrolytes performs various functions, including conducting electricity that delivers messages between cells.
One of the most important roles of electrolytes is maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the body. Sodium and potassium are the electrolytes most highly involved in maintaining hydration; without adequate hydration, your body is not able to properly synthesize a molecule known as ATP that provides energy for the cells. Calcium and magnesium play essential roles in ATP production.
The communication facilitated by electrolytes is also highly involved in supporting healthy energy levels. Potassium channels, a mechanism by which cells send messages to each other, are critical in recycling ATP so that it can be reused in the future.
When electrolyte levels in the body become unbalanced, you may notice a difference in your energy levels.
While the body does a good job of preventing life-threatening electrolyte imbalances, for the most part, it’s possible to experience a more mild imbalance after a tough workout when you’re sweating a lot or after a big night out.
If your body does not have enough electrolytes, your fluid balance can be disrupted, causing you to feel tired or weak.
As noted above, electrolytes play an important role in maintaining a proper fluid balance and facilitating the production of ATP, both of which are critical for maintaining energy levels.
For most people, energy is tied to performing daily tasks or completing a workout without becoming fatigued. Alternatively, scientists talk about energy in regards to ATP, the molecule that powers your cells and provides fuel. In other contexts, energy is synonymous with calories, which you obtain through food.
Electrolytes do not give you energy in the form of ATP. Electrolytes like calcium and magnesium are critical components of the process of ATP synthesis, but on their own, they do not boost your energy levels.
Similarly, electrolytes do not give you energy in the form of calories. A calorie is a unit of measurement equivalent to the amount of energy required to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Macronutrients like carbohydrates, protein, and fat provide stored energy in food in the form of calories. Your body uses this stored energy to create ATP during the process of cellular respiration.
Electrolytes are used during the production of ATP, but they do not contain calories. That’s why it is possible to drink beverages that contain electrolytes but are calorie-free.
While you won’t pick up any additional energy from calories while consuming electrolytes, you will be adding in an important component of the ATP synthesis process, which provides your body with the energy it needs. In short, electrolytes support your body’s ability to create energy.
We’ve already established that electrolytes on their own do not provide energy. However, your body needs electrolytes in order to convert the stored energy found in food into usable energy called ATP.
Calcium, magnesium, and potassium all play important roles in ATP production. These electrolytes affect your energy levels in the following ways:
The cellular respiration process requires dozens of enzymes in order to produce ATP. Calcium is used to activate many different enzymes throughout the process.
Without sufficient calcium, these enzymes may struggle to activate and produce energy. Low levels of calcium may also lead to muscle weakness and muscle cramps or muscle spasms.
Enzymes are also activated by cofactors, which facilitate reactions throughout the cellular respiration process. Your body uses magnesium to synthesize a complex called MgATP2, which is needed to activate certain enzymes that are critical in the production of ATP.
Magnesium is also used to control messaging that occurs along calcium and potassium channels, which affect how energy is metabolized. Insufficient magnesium may cause irregular heartbeats and poor nerve function.
You can think of potassium channels as internal text messages that your cells use to communicate. As your body produces ATP and your stores of the molecule increase, certain potassium channels are activated.
These potassium channels deliver a message to your body to start secreting insulin, which is a hormone that helps control the amount of glucose, a form of stored energy, in the blood. Your body depends on potassium channels to guide how energy is used.
Electrolytes play a number of key roles in the body in addition to assisting in the process of energy production. The following are just a few of the ways that the body uses electrolytes:
Maintaining fluid balance and hydration
Regulating muscle contractions, including the heartbeat
Conducting electrical impulses for the nervous system
Regulating blood pressure
Helping you get a good night’s sleep
Producing and regulating hormones like adrenaline, aldosterone, antidiuretic hormone, and cortisol
While we have already established that electrolytes do not directly contain energy, you may have noticed that many of the functions listed above can play a role in how you feel in terms of your energy level.
Electrolytes are essential for supporting your overall energy levels, and factors like fluid loss (such as by sweating) and dehydration can deplete your body’s electrolytes. During exercise, we tend to work up a sweat, which is why electrolytes can easily become depleted after a gym sesh. Making sure to drink plenty of water during a workout, and following a workout with electrolyte-loaded foods and beverages, can help you stay on top of your electrolyte levels.
Electrolytes are critical for maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the body. Beyond just drinking water, your body needs to take in enough electrolytes to ensure that you’re retaining the right amount of water to support healthy cellular function.
You may have noticed that you experience symptoms like headache, fatigue, confusion, and more if you’re dehydrated. These symptoms are common and can significantly affect your energy level, but they can be avoided by using electrolytes to maintain the proper balance of fluids.
After a night of poor sleep spent tossing and turning, you’re bound to have low energy levels and will likely experience fatigue earlier in the day. Maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes contributes to supporting energy levels by promoting restful sleep.
An electrolyte imbalance can also contribute to low energy if your nervous system cannot properly communicate. Sodium and potassium play a key role in making sure your brain cells are able to communicate. Without enough of these important electrolytes, you can experience symptoms like lethargy, headache, and fatigue.
You may not realize it, but hormones play a major role in your energy levels. Electrolytes are used to maintain proper levels of some hormones in the body, including cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and antidiuretic hormone. Sodium plays the largest role in regulating hormones, and sodium deficiency can lead to an imbalance.
Without an adequate supply of sodium, your levels of cortisol may become elevated, contributing to a condition referred to as adrenal fatigue.
Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and antidiuretic hormone all influence your sleep quality, and an excess of these hormones can impair your ability to get a good night’s rest.
After a rough night with minimal sleep, you’re likely to experience symptoms of low energy.
Now that you understand the role that electrolytes play in the body, it is easy to understand why electrolyte imbalances can contribute to feelings of low energy.
While electrolyte levels aren’t the only factor influencing your energy levels, maintaining the appropriate balance is critical to keep you feeling your best. Low electrolyte levels can contribute to feelings of low energy, so make sure that you are keeping up with your electrolyte intake.
Maintaining electrolyte levels is especially important for endurance athletes, people who sweat a lot while working out, or those who have outdoor jobs. Your body can quickly become depleted of electrolytes if all you take in is purified water, so you may need to utilize a supplement to bring your electrolyte levels back in check and support healthy energy.
Foods like bananas, beans, avocados, and spinach are rich in potassium, while seafood, chicken, dairy, and nut butter are food sources of sodium. While you can receive electrolytes naturally through the foods you eat, it’s often easier to use a hydration supplement that helps you know that you’re meeting your requirements for all of the electrolytes you need.
Gainful Personalized Hydration features cane sugar to hydrate you faster, calcium citrate to support your muscles, magnesium glycinate to support performance, sodium citrate to replenish your body after sweating, and potassium citrate to help regulate your fluids. Personalized Hydration also includes l-theanine to aid your ability to focus.
The levels of electrolytes in Personalized Hydration are adjusted based on your workout frequency, workout intensity, and sweat levels so you can rest assured your body is adequately supported.
Maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes is key if you’re looking to make sure you have the energy you need to power through each day.
Gainful Personalized Hydration can be helpful in addressing electrolyte imbalances by supplying your body with everything it needs to recover after your latest sweat session.
Dehydration - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
Fluid and Electrolyte Balance | MedlinePlus
Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003-2008 | National Library of Medicine
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