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

The Best Time of the Day to Work Out

So when is the ideal time of day to exercise? In short – there isn’t one. The answer for YOU depends on an array of factors. The American Heart Association recommends “at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.” However, there are benefits for working out at certain times. Let’s break it down.

Silhouette woman run under blue sky with clouds

If you have trouble falling asleep at night, then a morning workout could help. A recent study from Appalachian State University revealed that moderate-intensity exercise at 7am can help adults (and perhaps college students too!) sleep longer with deeper sleep cycles. And sleep is the ultimate restorative mechanism. When resting, your body repairs muscles, sorts through memories, and maintains heart health. Also – morning exercise can help with consistency. If you make the habit, you will be much likelier to stick with it. Maybe your friend who swears by a 6am run is onto something.

If high performance is your goal, then an afternoon exercise session could be the best fit. Using a group of cyclists, researchers found in another study that 6pm workouts resulted in higher performance than 6am workouts. What does this mean for you? If your preferred form of exercise is walking on the treadmill, then you can likely work out at any time of the day without much difference. However, afternoon running, biking, or swimming workouts could give you better results.

Ready to get your work out on? Check out all of the UNC fitness opportunities, including facility hours, on the brand new Campus Rec Interactive Calendar.


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

Workout Wednesday: 3 FREE Killer Workouts and Lots of Smoothies… What More Do You Need?

During the holidays, it can be especially hard to feel like you’re getting a great, structured workout if you don’t have access to a gym or simply don’t want to pay for a membership. For some, it’s easy to take the initiative to go out and exercise in a generally unstructured setting, such as going for a run or a long swim with no particular workout set in mind. For others, it’s much easier to have a workout already planned out for you with a start time, a warm up, cool down, and set end time. Working out is hard, so having a set of exercises to get through and knowing that when you finish you’ll have completed a balanced, full body workout can be encouraging! Thanks to the wonderful creation known as YouTube, a great workout also doesn’t require expensive equipment, a personal trainer, or a gym membership! Check out these three great workout videos that I’ve found and enjoyed on YouTube to help you get in an amazing workout from the free, private comfort of home—and all in less than an hour each!

  1. “45 Minute Buttkickin’ Power Yoga Flow”: For the yogi or the lover of slow-paced, controlled workouts and plenty of great stretching. This guy is good at explaining the motions and leads you through a yoga flow that will have you sweating! It’s hard to find good quality full-length yoga videos online sometimes, but he’s easy to hear and follow and you could easily turn on your own music in the background to listen to as you watch and follow along.

  1. “Latin Dance Aerobic Workout”: For the Zumba fans out there who like to burn calories in the form of dance! The instructor in this video is energetic and stops to explain some of the motions of each dance before he begins. (The students in the background are learning as they go and make you feel better about not being able to follow along exactly the first time!) This 50 minute video provides a great and fun cardio workout and dancing makes the time go by quickly! As an added bonus, with no one watching you there is no reason not go to all out and feel free to look crazy if you so desire!

  1. “BeFiT GO HIIT Fit-Total Body Strength and Toning Circuit”: I believe that this is my favorite of the three videos when I’m in the mood to feel like I have really given my all to an impressive strength-building workout! This video does require a set of dumbbells and a small medicine ball is suggested, although the exercises using the medicine ball can easily be modified without it. (For example, push-ups with one hand on a medicine ball can be done regularly without the medicine ball or the ball can be replaced by anything from a yoga block to a thick book—anything to get one arm higher than the other and change the targeted muscles.) Different instructors, male and female, take you through several exercises that target arms, legs, and abs for a total body workout and the video incorporates time and reminders for water breaks and cool down. If you’re looking for a great toning workout and targeted exercises with examples of good form, I’d highly suggest this video!

And after one of these fantastic workouts, what better day to finish off than with a delicious smoothie? When I’m at home and there is always an abundance of dessert present somehow (my family is full of sweet tooths… or is it sweet teeth?), I’m tempted to eat way more sugar than usual! Smoothies help satisfy my sweet craving without have tons of added sugar and offer a few extra servings of fruit and veggies as well! These smoothie ideas are great after working out because they’re cold, hydrating, and delicious!

  • Strawberry+peach+banana+orange. I use frozen strawberries and peaches for added thickness, fresh bananas, and frozen orange juice concentrate.
  • Strawberry+banana+orange+pineapple
  • Strawberry+banana+blueberry
  • Kiwi+banana+blueberry
  • Avocado+kiwi+orange
  • Pineapple+coconut milk+vanilla or coconut yogurt+ice
  • Fresh, sweet black cherries+yogurt+cocoa powder or chocolate protein powder
  • Cherry+blackberry+blueberry+strawberry+raspberry (for an amazingly delicious berry explosion)
  • Pomegranate juice+banana+almonds+protein power (even though it’s a little expensive, POM juice is full of antioxidants; it has even more per glass than green tea, cranberry juice, and acai-berry juice blends)

General smoothie tips: In most of the combinations listed above, I’ve just listed the fruit and veggies that make up the basis of the flavor of the smoothie. The rest is up to you to determine the thickness and added flavors that you prefer using some of these tricks.

  • Use frozen fruit and crushed ice to add thickness
  • Use milk or fresh fruit to thin down a smoothie and add just a little bit of dairy. Regular cow’s milk, soymilk, almond milk, and coconut milk all taste great in smoothies from my experience, even though I’m not a huge fan of all of them on their own.
  • Plain yogurt or vanilla Greek yogurt can add some body, creaminess, and sweetness without affecting the flavor.
  • Often the fruit itself will be sweet enough, but if you want to sweeten your smoothie without directly adding sugar you can use honey or coconut milk since both are sweet and natural.
  • Raw oatmeal can add texture and fiber to a smoothie.
  • Tofu adds protein and creaminess without affecting the flavor (and I don’t even like tofu normally).
  • Protein powder adds protein (shocking, I know) and sweetness, and even chocolaty flavor if you prefer.
  • Chia seeds provide omega-3 and are easier to digest than flax seeds for an easy health-boosting mix in.
  • Add raw spinach to any smoothie for no change in flavor, added vitamins and minerals including iron and beta-carotene, and a fun green color.

Start your day with a delicious fruit smoothie or enjoy your workout at home and cool down with a yummy smoothie creation. Happy blending!

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