Almost every athlete I meet for the first time has heard of electrolytes, yet very few know what they actually do and how to replace them properly. Potassium is an electrolyte that plays a crucial role in hydration, muscle contraction and control of blood pressure and heart rate.
It is important to know that one of the main causes of low potassium levels is excessive sweating. If training in hot and humid conditions, potassium and sodium are released in sweat. Failure to replenish potassium during and after workouts can lead to adverse effects such as muscle aches, cramps, fatigue or even spasms, palpitations, constipation or nausea.
Potassium and sodium are minerals that together regulate fluid levels and electrolyte balance. If you eat a diet rich in processed foods (fast food, potato chips, cookies, frozen foods) you are probably ingesting too much sodium and too little potassium. Electrolyte imbalances are something to take very seriously, especially for elite athletes. Your body needs to maintain consistent electrolyte and fluid levels to avoid dehydration.
Potassium also helps maintain healthy heart function, promote bone health and improve muscle function. How much is enough? Adults should consume 4.7 grams of potassium per day (additional intake may be necessary depending on training; talk to your dietitian for your personal needs).