Workout Wednesday: Seriously, What are Electrolytes?

If you’re like me, you’ve stumbled across dozens of different fancy beverages containing “electrolytes” while looking for a drink to go. “Electrolytes” – this seems to be the fitness drink buzzword nowadays in many popular brands: Smartwater, Gatorade, Powerade, Propel.

energy drinks

But what are electrolytes? How do they fit in the context of your workout, and your life? And should they be in your drink?

Maybe you’ve taken chemistry so you have a general idea of the scientific context of electrolytes (if not, no worries!). Electrolytes are salts, specifically ions. In solution (dissolved in water), these ions conduct electricity. The human body contains cells, organs, and fluids that maintain balance through the use of electrical impulses. The transfer of these impulses depends on the existence of electrolytes and an electric current. It is the job of the kidney to regulate electrolyte concentrations in the bloodstream despite changes in the body. In your body, the major electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and a few others. Whenever you sweat heavily through exercise, electrolytes are lost – mainly sodium and potassium.

Here’s where the drinks come into play. It’s important to replace these lost electrolytes during and after exercise to maintain body fluids concentrations and stay healthy. Several factors influence which type of drink you should reach for when exercising: duration of exercise, intensity level, body size, environment conditions, and the degree of sweating. For most people performing moderate exercise, drinking just water for hydration will do the job. However, individuals working out for longer periods of time (in the ballpark of more than 1.5 hours) at a more intense level may need to replenish electrolytes in addition to hydration. Drinks with electrolytes sound like a great idea, right? However, many sports drinks are also filled with sugar, which ultimately cause more harm than help.

Here’s the bottom line – choose your drink carefully. Read the label, and choose a drink with very little sugar content. Bottled coconut water is a great natural option for electrolyte replenishment if you’re heading out to for some very intense exercise. But for most cases, water is the best option. If you have more detailed concerns, research your specific question or talk to your doctor.

Here at Campus Rec, we celebrate self-acceptance. We also encourage you to make the best choices to take care of your body. Whether you’re at home playing tennis with friends or walking to class through “The Pit,” remember to stay hydrated with a smart choice!


Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

Di-Hydrogen Monoxide: Chemical Alert Warning

As you travel on spring break, make sure you are aware of your body’s levels of Di-Hydrogen Monoxide. Too little Di-Hydrogen Monoxide can result in the following symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased urine output
  • Yellow or amber urine output
  • Fever over 101 degrees
  • Vomiting

As you may have figured out, Di-Hydrogen Monoxide = H2O. For you the chemistry-averse among you, that’s what’s commonly referred to as “Water”.

In all seriousness, how much water you drink is important for your health, safety, and ability to enjoy spring break. As you can see from the list above, dehydration can have some very serious health effects.

If someone does exhibit signs of dehydration, get them to a cool place and have them sip water, chew ice chips, suck on a Popsicle, or sip a sports-drink. Loosen their clothing, and seek shade or air-conditioning immediately. If symptoms worsen or persist, take the person to an emergency room or call an ambulance.


College students, if they choose to drink alcohol over spring break, can be especially susceptible to dehydration. Alcohol, like caffeine, is a diuretic. Diuretics act on the kidneys to make you pee more than usual, which results in your body losing too much of its water and becoming dehydrated.

The symptoms of a hangover are mainly due to your body being dehydrated, and can best be cured by drinking water, not a caffeinated beverage.

Hydration is especially important on spring break, when people travel to warm weather where they may be sweating more, enjoying the sunshine more, and expending more energy traveling than they normally do in Chapel Hill.

So to stay hydrated and prevent the above symptoms, follow these 5 easy steps:

  1. Have a full water bottle with you at all times.
  2. Sip water before and during exercise or exposure to heat.
  3. Break up the time you spend in hot temperatures. Find air-conditioned or shady areas and allow yourself to cool down between exposures to the heat.
  4. Wear light colored and loose-fitting clothing, and carry a fan or mister to cool yourself. Doing so will lessen the amount of water you lose by sweating.
  5. If you choose to drink alcohol, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This will help you pace your drinking and stay more hydrated.

So now that you know the signs of dehydration and how to avoid it, have a great, safe (and well-hydrated) spring break!

4 Things You Need to Know on Halloween

Ahh, Halloween. As a kid, it was a time to prepare a costume, carve a pumpkin, gather with friends and family, and have a wholesome night of fun dedicated to obtaining and consuming too much candy. For adults, Halloween is still about consuming too much. But for some, it’s alcohol causing the tummy aches.

There are many ways to celebrate Halloween without alcohol present: Have a costume competition with some friends, bake up some tasty Halloween-themed treats, have a scary movie marathon, or plot an elaborate way to scare the crap out of your roommate. But if you choose to have an adult beverage to celebrate Halloween this evening, make sure you do these 4 easy things to stay safe and avoid tummy aches.

  1. Eat a meal before you start drinking, and make sure you have plenty of water before and during drinking. Eating a meal beforehand helps slow down the effects of alcohol and will allow you to make safer decisions all night. And alcohol is a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you, so it is important to drink water all night. Also, switching between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages is a good way to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
  2. Know how much you are drinking. Don’t drink from communal punch bowls, trashcans, etc. as you have no way of knowing how much alcohol is in there and how it will affect you. Also, the taste of the alcohol is easily masked, so don’t rely on how strong the punch tastes. Taking back control over how much alcohol you are consuming by making your own drinks.
  3. Use the buddy system. Don’t be afraid to speak up or take action if there is something going on that you or your friends are uncomfortable with. Everyone is entitled to having a good time on Halloween, and that starts with feeling safe. Keeping an eye on each other can help get you there.
  4. Have an exit strategy. Some of the most dangerous situations arise late in the night, when people have had too much alcohol to make good decisions. Set a limit for yourself ahead of time, because it’s hard to know when to stop once you have started. So decide ahead of time when you are heading home, and have plans in place to get home safe. Obviously, don’t get into a car when the driver has been drinking. Have a way to get a cab, take a bus, or call a sober friend as a backup.

With these things in mind, have a happy, healthy, safe Halloween!

How often do you clean your water bottle?

stainless steel water bottle
a stainless steel water bottle

If you drink out of a refillable water bottle, then you probably already know about its benefits. Reusable water bottles are a great way of helping the environment, and they also help you meet your daily water requirements. (Plus, this may just be me, but I have a hard time opening disposable plastic water bottles. Almost every time I twist open the top, water pours all over the bottle and myself. Am I gripping the bottle too tightly, or do they just consistently overfill those bottles? I digress.)

Finding exactly the right water bottle for you can be a process, but once you’ve got that sweet Goldilocks water bottle that’s “just right”…

How often do you have to clean it?

Continue reading

Gatorade vs Good ‘Ole H2O

Have you ever wondered whether sports drinks really make a difference? Is Gatorade, Powerade, AllSport or Xcel really worth the extra expense over a bottle of plain water? Over the past week I did some research on this very topic, and thought you might be interested in my findings.

Sports drinks currently on the market contain water, 6-8% sugar and electrolytes that may be lost in sweat such as sodium, potassium and chloride. While commercially-available drinks vary slightly in composition, the differences are not significant and it doesn’t really matter which one you purchase. The main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to be drinking anything that is more than 10% sugar because that may actually contribute to dehydration. Also, place your water or sports drink in the fridge before you drink it. Cold fluids are better than warmer fluid during exercise because they help regulate body temperature. This is especially important in the summer.

Do sports drinks increase performance? In general, they appear to improve athletic performance because they provide extra carbohydrates which are fuel for muscles, and because they provide electrolytes which, with water, help maintain hydration.

A review of over 70 studies by Coombes and Hamilton published in a journal called Sports Medicine in 2000 indicated that consuming any commercially available sports drinks improves athletic performance for short-term intense exercise (for less than 1 hour) and for prolonged or ultra-endurance exercise (more than 1 hour). The review also stated that the for ultra-endurance exercise (more than 4 hours) where there are large electrolyte losses due to sweating, drinks containing electrolytes have a significant advantage over plain water.

The American College of Sports Medicine in their 2007 statement, Exercise and Fluid Replacement, asserts that “sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes often do provide more benefits than consuming water alone.”

Ok, so there are benefits for people doing short-term intense exercise, and those planning on running, cycling or engaging in another form of exercise for more than an hour at a time. What about those of us who just like to jog for 30 minutes a day, a few times a week? Should we use sports drinks? There are several factors to keep in mind here:

  1. Remember that sports drinks provides extra energy without giving you very many vitamins or other important nutrients.
  2. On the other hand, studies have shown that during exercise, people will voluntarily drink more of a sports drink than water.

So, you may want to opt for water instead of sports drinks to optimize your balanced diet. Hydration is essential, however, so if you are exercising for a longer period, are prone to dehydration or it’s very hot, it’s most important that you get enough fluid. Sports drinks aren’t necessary (water is great!) however if sports drinks encourage you to stay more hydrated than you normally would with water, give them a try.


American College of Sports Medicine Press Release. February 2007.
Coombes & Hamilton. Effectiveness of Commercially Available Sports Drinks. Sports Med 2000 Mar: 29 (3): 181-209

Healthy Tips for your Summer Shindig!

One of the best parts of summer is having the extra time to socialize with people and enjoy some fun in the sun.  Those cookouts, pool parties, and beach excursions don’t always lend themselves to the healthiest choices, neither for you nor the environment.  Here are a few tips to keep your summer shindigs fun AND healthy!

  Continue reading

Hydrate or Die

Summer is here and it’s already a hot one.  Most people know that drinking water is important, but it is especially crucial in the hot summer months when it is far easier to get dehydrated.  So here’s a list of tips (in no particular order) to keep you refreshed and hydrated every day:

  1.   Eat your water.  Fruits and veggies naturally contain a lot of water, so eating these nutrient rich foods not only keeps you hydrated, but keeps  you healthier overall.
  2. Make water taste better.  Sometimes it’s easy to get sick of plain old water.  Adding fresh fruit or veggies, like cucumber, to change the flavor of water can be a great way to turn up the taste.. Plus, it will make you feel like you’re at a spa! Continue reading

Hydration Station

Try asking the internet how much water you need to drink each day and these are your options:

Eight 8 ounce glasses.

Use the replacement approach.

2.2 liters for women and 3 liters for men.  (seriously?)

Half your body weight in ounces of water.

Losses minus 20% to account for water from food. (20% of what?!)

We each need a slightly different amount of water each day depending on our weight, activity level and stage of life.  The verdict is still out on exactly how much water that is, but we do know one thing:  all living things need water to survive!

So why has it always been so very difficult for me to drink enough water, even when I’m really trying to concentrate on upping my intake?  I blame my water bottles. 

Continue reading