Electrolytes for Fasting
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are substances that conduct electricity when combined with water. These substances are vital for many key processes in our body, which require a small electric charge to happen . Among others, electrolytes are crucial to keep our bodies hydrated, while also making our muscles and brain cells function properly.
When we talk about electrolytes, we refer to different compounds: sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphate, bicarbonate, chloride, and more. These are required for different body functions and an imbalance can have a huge impact on our health. For example, when we contract a muscle, we use potassium, calcium, and sodium. A lack of any of these electrolytes can negatively affect our ability to control our muscles.
Fasting has become a very popular lifestyle and has many health benefits, apart from weight loss. However, when we skip meals, we also skip much-needed electrolytes. Below, we’ll dive deeper into why electrolytes are important for fasting and how you can get enough electrolytes without breaking your fast.
Why Are Electrolytes Important For Fasting?
Electrolytes play a key role in many of our bodies’ processes. When we fast, we restrict the number of meals, so the supply of electrolytes is also strained . To stay healthy and provide all the necessary nutrients to our bodies, we need to watch our electrolyte intake.
It’s important to note that fasting (and intermittent fasting) may lead to dehydration, which in turn causes an electrolyte imbalance. These two are in a tight relationship: when you get dehydrated, you lose electrolytes, and low levels of electrolytes prevent your body from correctly absorbing water. When this happens, you will start to experience several symptoms, such as fasting headaches. This is your body’s way of letting you know that you are dehydrating.
In addition to this, electrolytes are important for fasting because many people may not choose the best, electrolyte-rich foods during their eating periods. Skipping on water intake during your fasting causes you to lose electrolytes faster.
Some other reasons why electrolytes are important for fasting include:
- Your brain works by generating electrical charges, which are supported by the movements of electrolytes, so a lack of electrolytes can also impact the health of your brain ;
- Electrolytes help our muscles contract and relax, and imbalances can lead to painful cramps ;
- Electrolytes help to keep you hydrated during your fasting period by ensuring fluid balance (osmosis) ;
- Balanced electrolytes keep your blood pH at a safe and healthy level, between 7.35-7.45. Your body must stick to a precise balance of acidity and alkalinity in order to function properly, and even a slight change in this balance can affect many organs;
- Electrolyte imbalances can even be fatal in some cases, so you need to be mindful of your electrolyte intake when you are fasting, sick, or when you exercise, as sweating depletes electrolytes.
How Can You Make Sure You're Getting Enough Electrolytes While Fasting?
Perhaps the best way of ensuring you get enough electrolytes while fasting is to eat the right foods. In addition to this, you need to stay hydrated throughout the day. People who live in hot climates or who exercise frequently usually require a higher water intake than sedentary people or those living in colder climates. Apart from making sure you drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated, you can add electrolytes to your diet in several other ways when you are fasting.
Planning Your Meals
The main dietary sources of electrolytes include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, dairy products (or calcium-fortified dairy alternatives), green leafy vegetables, and salty foods for sodium (adding table salt to dishes or eating salty foods, such as pickles and cheese).
Some electrolytes are naturally produced in your body, such as bicarbonate, but for most of them you need to rely on the food you eat. When fasting, however, it may be difficult to have a varied diet that includes so many food groups at the same time. Fortunately, there are several other ways to help you get enough electrolytes when fasting.
Many people get enough electrolytes from their meals. If you are fasting, however, you will eat less often and may not be able to eat enough foods that replenish your electrolytes. In this case, you can go for certain delicious electrolyte drinks that not only replenish your electrolytes but go all the way to keep you properly hydrated.
Depending on how strict you are, you can have this electrolyte-rich powder even when you are fasting. With only 25 calories per serving, it is ideal if you want to get enough electrolytes without breaking your fast or the ketosis state. If you are stricter with your diet, you can simply complement your meals with this hydrating drink and make sure to drink plenty of water while fasting.
Although many people who fast drink bone broth, this may interrupt your fasting, but it is a healthy and natural way of adding more electrolytes to your diet. You can break your fast with bone broth – ideally homemade – to supplement your intake of essential minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes. Bone broth has been used for many centuries to improve health or even cure colds, so adding it to your regular diet may help you boost nutrition.
What are some signs that you're not getting enough electrolytes?
There are many things that lead to low electrolytes in our blood. If you are on a varied diet, you may be losing electrolytes when exercising (through sweat), which can lead to an imbalance. Dehydration and low levels of electrolytes are tightly related and have several symptoms:
- You feel tired when you are dehydrated
- Urine has a dark color – perhaps one of the easiest ways to determine if you’re dehydrated
- Your skin is dry, your lips tend to crack
- You suffer from frequent headaches
- You get dizzy when you stand up
- You may experience heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
- If you are very dehydrated, your blood pressure is low
- You have issues focusing, you are in a bad mood in general
The concentration of electrolytes must be kept at a normal level to stay healthy. Perhaps one of the most common symptoms of low electrolytes in our blood is night leg cramps. Many people also feel dizzy, confused, tired, or experience an irregular heartbeat and headaches . Your muscles may start feeling weak as fatigue creeps in, but a serious electrolyte imbalance can lead to severe conditions, including convulsions and even death.
If you experience any of the symptoms above, there is a high chance you are dehydrated and, consequently, you are not getting enough electrolytes. The levels of electrolytes in our blood are directly related to how much water we have in our body – if we do not have enough water, we lack electrolytes; if we overhydrate, the levels of electrolytes are likely to be too high.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Taking Electrolytes?
Taking electrolytes supplements generally does not come with any risks. However, as always, moderation is key: taking too much of a given electrolyte leads to imbalance and has different symptoms. For instance, if your diet is rich in salt and salty foods, and you also take sodium supplements, it can lead to hypernatremia – too much sodium may lead to feeling dizzy and vomiting, among others.
Unfortunately, there is no clear guidance on what healthy electrolyte levels are unless you take blood tests, so your doctor can recommend you the appropriate treatment. These depend on a variety of unique factors, such as our age, if we suffer from any health conditions, and how active we are.
Many people who are dehydrated or want to increase the amount of water consumption can safely opt for electrolyte drinks since dehydration is linked to electrolyte imbalance. Also, if you exercise or are trying to lose weight, you probably need more electrolytes in your diet.
Although the risk of electrolyte poisoning is quite low, it’s worth keeping in mind that too many electrolytes can be just as bad as very low electrolyte levels . Thus, based on what electrolyte is too high in your body, you may risk experiencing:
- Hypernatremia if you take too much sodium, which makes you thirsty and even confused and leads to seizures in extreme conditions.
- Hyperkalemia if you take too much potassium, but only severe cases experience symptoms like abnormal heart rhythms or muscle weakness.
- Hypercalcemia if you take too much calcium, but only severe cases experience symptoms like abdominal pain and excessive thirst.
- Hyperchloremia happens if you have too much chloride in your blood. Both hyperchloremia and high levels of bicarbonate in your blood are usually caused by underlying health conditions.
- Hyperphosphatemia is when you have very high levels of phosphate in your body, but it doesn’t usually have any symptoms for healthy people. For those with severe kidney conditions, hyperphosphatemia can lead to muscle cramps and spasms, and bone weakness, among others.
- Hypermagnesemia or high levels of magnesium in the blood may lead to low blood pressure and may be fatal.
Overall, getting all the nutrients we need when fasting may be difficult because of the restricted number of meals. Planning our diet is important to ensure we include different food groups, but it may still be hard to get all the electrolytes we need. Fortunately, there are electrolyte supplements you can have when fasting to avoid the symptoms associated with electrolyte deficiency.
shop your all day essentials