A Combat Athletes Guide to Electrolytes.

“Electrolytes are one of the most important components in maintaining fluid balance, proper muscle contraction and neural activity, which are all essential for performance, recovery and overall function”.

All athletes, professionals to weekend warriors, all strive to improve performance and recovery. It is important to all athletes that they are able to recover quickly and maintain optimal performance over a training session, or multiple training sessions, not to mention during competition. The majority of athletes are unable to sustain this level of performance, and  recovery properly, in part, due to not understanding vital nutrition related components.

Electrolytes are one of the most important components in maintaining fluid balance, proper muscle contraction and neural activity, which are all essential for performance, recovery and overall function.

Electrolytes are primarily found in the form of sodium (Na+), chloride (Cl-), potassium (K+), magnesium (Mg2+) and calcium (Ca2+). Water is drawn to concentrations of electrolytes, so in basic terms, water follows wherever the electrolytes go.  Therefore, as an athletes begins to sweat, they begin to lose water along with these vital electrolytes. As an athlete begins to lose these vital electrolytes, in particular sodium, a decrease in cell, muscle and neural function is seen, which all negatively affect performance.

The amount an athlete sweats, and the concentration of electrolytes in the sweat,  is variable between individuals. Also, the environment is another important component regarding the amount of electrolytes lost during training.  E.g Greater loss of electrolytes is seen in the summer weather conditions.  Therefore to optimise performance and recovery, it is essential that hydration protocols include the consumption of adequate amounts of electrolytes. Also, sweat contains multiple components including, water, calcium, magnesium, sodium and chloride, so consumption of a range of electrolytes is suggested, not just simply sodium.

Post Weigh-In is the most important time for electrolyte consumption, as many weight-cutting techniques result in severe dehydration and electrolyte loss. As mentioned, water follows electrolytes, so when we are rehydrating after weigh-ins we need these vital electrolytes to facilitate the re-introduction of water into the body’s cells, muscles and organs. It is also very important to individualise the consumption of fluids and electrolytes, as over consumption can cause adverse effects and be dangerous, as seen in top UFC athletes Max Holloway, who has spoken out on how a miscalculated rehydration drink caused dangerous health effects caused him to be compromised in competition.

Overall, it is recommend that athletes consume adequate electrolytes daily, with heavy emphasises post-training as part of their hydration protocol. Electrolytes come in tablets, powders, gels, chews, blended sports drinks, table salt, and food.  Recommendation for athletes, is well formulated electrolyte powders mixed with water.

General Hydration Tips;

1) Determine own hydration status;

– If your urine is dark in colour and smells bad then fluid intake needs to be increased.

– If urine is clear and colourless, then continue to hydrate as usual.

(Ensure you determine hydration status through this method pre-exercise to ensure you are not putting yourself at risk training in a dehydrated state)

2) Fluid Intake – General water intake recommendations for males are between 2.6 to 3.7 litres per day, electrolyte supplementation may be an addition needed depending on training schedule. .

3) Fluid intake & exercise– as a general rule, monitor body weight changes from pre to post exercise, then intake fluid that represents 125% of losses with the addition of electrolytes (especially for those who are ”salty sweaters”.  E.g. if you lose 1kg of body weight during exercise, consume 1.25litres of water/fluid + electrolytes  post exercise to ensure adequate hydration.


Jack Doherty – TFD Dietitian


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