So we've established that electrolytes, electrically-charged minerals needed for a number of functions in the body, are lost through sweating. Electrolyte supplements serve to replace the needed balance, and we've briefly mentioned the different types available.
But what exactly are we aiming for? Whether sports drinks or powdered mix from the health food store, what are the key ingredients? Let's look at the most important electrolytes to the human body.
The primary electrolyte lost through sweating is sodium chloride [source: Sawka]. In fact, sodium and chloride separately are electrolytes, but together make up NaCl, or common salt. This is the same substance you use for table salt [source: Medline Plus]. Most all electrolyte supplements will have some form of absorbable sodium.
Another necessary electrolyte is potassium. In sports drinks, this is often added as monopotassium phosphate. Together with sodium, potassium is an essential part of a cellular function aptly named the sodium-potassium pump [source: Goodsell].
Ions, positively or negatively charged atoms, are moved back and forth between cellular walls through the sodium-potassium pump. The most important aspect of this process is the transmission of signals in the nervous system [source: Goodsell].
Found in a number of foods, from dairy products to leafy green vegetables, calcium is another essential electrolyte. It's also the most abundant mineral in the human body [source: UMMC].
Look for it as calcium carbonate, calcium citrate or coral calcium (sometimes found in high-end supplements). Calcium carbonate is the same substance found in basic antacids [source: UMMC].
One last electrolyte to look for is magnesium, a trace metal that's necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the human body [source: ODS]. Magnesium is also lost through sweating and needs replacement like the others.
When checking the ingredient list, look for the mineral in the forms of magnesium carbonate, magnesium sulfate and magnesium oxide [source: ODS].
And those are the key electrolytes to look out for. Electrolyte supplements are a great way to replace minerals lost through sweating, allowing you to recuperate quicker and giving athletes that competitive advantage.