These fruits, veggies, dairy, and whole grains can provide the nutrients your body needs without the added sugar you don’t want.
Most of us can get away with gulping water after a workout, but some—those of us training for fall marathons or just running over an hour in humidity—need to put in extra effort to replenish the minerals flushed out via sweat. Sure, electrolytes come standard in sports drinks and energy bars, but packaged and processed foods may contain added sugars you don’t want at times.
Fortunately, there’s another way to replenish the electrolytes your body needs to maintain fluid balance and aid muscle and nerve functions necessary for athletic performance: Eating healthy, whole foods.
“Foods contain so many electrolytes, as well as vitamins and other health-protective compounds,” says author and sports dietitian Nancy Clark, R.D. Here are five key electrolytes, and the foods you can eat to replace them.
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.
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 such as olives, seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, and celery.
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, pick fresh or dried fruits such as oranges, melons, raisins, or prunes. Or create a salad or grain bowl when you get home with potassium-rich foods such as baked and 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 like milk (regular or soy) and cereal, yogurt, or a latte each day, Clark advises.
Along with calcium, magnesium aids muscle contraction, nerve function, enzyme activation, and bone development. To replenish stores of the mineral after exercise, Clark suggests chowing down on leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, peanut butter, dried beans, and lentils as often as possible. 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.