How to keep up with your Electrolytes (or Why do I feel like crap all the time?)

It's an extremely common question from people on low-carbohydrate diets: "Why do I feel so tired all the time?" "Why don't I have the energy I used to have before?" "Why are my muscles cramping so much?"

The answer, most likely, has to do with electrolytes! If you've just started keto, you may have experienced the "keto flu" which in general is a feeling of malaise, foggy-headedness, or lack of energy. Depending on what you were eating before and what you're eating now, you may or may not have experienced the keto flu, and to differing degrees. Regardless, keeping up with your electrolytes is vital to continued success on keto, and will prevent the keto flu for newcomers as well!

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are the smallest of chemicals that are important for the cells in the body to function and allow the body to work. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and others are critical in allowing cells to generate energy, maintain the stability of their walls, and to function in general. They generate electricity, contract muscles, move water and fluids within the body, and participate in myriad other activities. (emedicinehealth.com)

Electrolytes that we can manage and care about are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. On a low carbohydrate diet, it's important to stay hydrated. The more you hydrate, the more your body flushes out sodium and other electrolytes. If you do not replenish electrolytes by consuming them in food or supplementing them, you will feel lethargic and foggy.

Why do you need electrolytes?

Electrolytes help your body function properly. If you take distilled water and try to run electricity through it, it won't work. It's the impurities in water that allows it to conduct electricity. Think about your nervous system; it runs on electricity. And our bodies are 70% water. Without proper electrolytes, the signals from your nervous system will go awry. This is why you feel like you can't think, your lack energy, or you get muscle cramping without enough electrolytes. Extreme electrolyte deficiency can cause serious health problems and even death!

Keeping up on your electrolytes serve multiple purposes:

  • Keeps you hydrated
  • Allows your nervous system to function properly
  • Prevents muscle soreness
  • Boosts energy

Are you experiencing lethargy? Terrible mood? Crazy leg cramps? Then you NEED MORE ELECTROLYTES!

How can you replenish electrolytes?

When you hear about sports and electrolytes, you probably think about Gatorade. Well, with keto, Gatorade is out due to its high sugar content. Yes, they do make both low-calorie and sugar-free versions (powerade zero, etc) but the actual electrolyte content in these drinks are paltry, especially when compared to the needs of someone on a low-carbohydrate diet.

In general, while eating a keto diet, you will require about three times more electrolytes than someone eating a "normal" diet.

I make my own recovery drink with Mio, or Crystal Lite, water and Lite-Salt. Lite-Salt is half sodium chloride (normal table salt) and half potassium chloride (dieter's salt). On its own, I personally feel like potassium chloride tastes awful, so having the 50/50 mix is nice.

I have a 24 oz. Contigo water bottle, to which I add a generous squirt of Mio (or one packet of Crystal Lite) and a good pour of lite salt (probably about 2-3 teaspoons). Shake well, and consume as you would any other beverage!

I usually drink three to four bottles on a day that I plan to workout, or if it is very hot outside. On normal days, I may drink only two.

Ideally, you want to consume about 5000 mg of Sodium, 1000 mg of Potassium, and 300 mg of Magnesium. If you noticed, there's no magnesium mentioned above. I take a magnesium supplement for that.

BE CAREFUL WITH MAGNESIUM! If you take too much at once, you could have dire consequences (you'll be on the toilet for a while, and frequently). Add magnesium gradually over a week or so to see how you react to it.

What if I don't like artificial stuff like Mio or Crystal Lite?

You can make a similar drink with lemon or lime juice instead! Just make sure to count your carbs. You'll also most likely need to add additional sweetener, which the Mio and Crystal Lite provide otherwise.

TL;DR:

You need electrolytes so you don't end up feeling like crap.

  • Make sure you're drinking enough water (at least 2-3 liters a day, if not more)
  • Supplement electrolytes with "recovery drinks" like the one described above
  • You will need to keep up with your electrolytes as long as you are eating a low-carb diet; the keto flu can happen at any point where your electrolytes are low!
  • Check out the FAQ at the Reddit Keto Community for more info!