Exploring the world’s most beautiful spots on foot is amazing, no doubt about it. However, whether you are embarking on a multiple-day trek or merely going on a short hike around where you live, people often underestimate how dehydrated and depleted of electrolytes they can get after a couple of hours of sweating.
When you sweat a lot, you lose a considerable amount of important minerals and water. Sure, drinking H2O will greatly help with fighting dehydration, but in order to replenish all the electrolytes you’ve lost, you may need an electrolyte supplement.
Let’s take a look at what minerals you need exactly and what the best electrolytes for hiking are:
Electrolyte Supplements for Hiking
First off, let’s get on the same page about electrolyte supplements. Electrolyte supplements are products designed to replenish the body’s lost electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
As you can probably imagine, hikers may benefit from taking electrolyte supplements during long or strenuous hikes, especially in hot and humid environments where sweating and dehydration are more likely.
The more you sweat, the more electrolytes you lose, so this information will come in especially handy for your outdoor workouts in summer.
The good news is, you can get electrolytes both through food and supplements.
Electrolyte supplements are available in various forms, including powders, tablets, capsules, and sports drinks.
Usually, these supplements don’t just provide you with these minerals and stop there. Many electrolyte supplements also contain carbohydrates, vitamins, or other ingredients to provide energy and enhance performance during hiking.
But how do you know which supplement to choose?
With such a huge (and growing) variety of supplements and brands out there, it’s important to consider factors such as the type and amount of electrolytes, the taste and texture, and the ease of use on the trail while looking for your perfect electrolyte.
Some hikers prefer to use natural sources of electrolytes, such as spinach, avocados, or coconut water, while others opt for commercial supplements that are specifically formulated for hiking or other endurance activities.
Of course, using a supplement is a lot handier for when you are in the middle of a hike since you don’t have to have food and make a whole meal instead of just mixing it into your water.
If you are opting for a supplement, it’s always important to follow the recommended dosages and instructions, just as you would for any other supplement, as excessive intake can lead to health issues such as gastrointestinal problems, kidney damage, or electrolyte imbalances.
On that note, it’s also vital to consult with a healthcare professional before starting to take an electrolyte supplement, especially if you have any medical conditions or take any medications to make sure that the supplement will not negatively react with those.
What are the Best Electrolytes for Hiking?
When you search for it, you will find that there is an abundance of various different electrolytes that are being offered as supplements. That’s why it’s important to be able to discern which of those minerals you actually need for hiking so that you aren’t buying unnecessary stuff.
Sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance in the body, which is crucial for hikers who are sweating and losing fluids.
When you sweat, you lose both water and sodium, which can lead to dehydration and a dangerous condition called hyponatremia if not replenished.
Hyponatremia is essentially a condition where the water levels in your body rise and your cells start to swell. This swelling can be mild and harmless, but in extreme cases, it can be life-threatening.
On a brighter note, you can prevent all of that by keeping your sodium levels in check through proper nutrition and/ or supplementation.
If you prefer eating real food instead of powders or pills, natural food sources of sodium for hikers include salted nuts, canned fish, cured meats, and cheese. Packing a snack with these foods can help you to replenish your sodium levels.
As a hiker, you should aim to consume between 1,500 and 2,300 mg of sodium per day, depending on factors such as body weight, activity level, and climate. For reference, a 30g serving of salted nuts contains 95mg of sodium on average.
One more thing to remember is that it’s important to consume sodium regularly during a hike, not just at the end of the day, to maintain proper electrolyte balance.
Electrolyte supplements that contain sodium, such as salt tablets or sports drinks, can help hikers replenish lost sodium quickly and efficiently without even having to stop.
However, it’s important to be careful not to overdo it with sodium, as excessive intake can lead to bloating, high blood pressure, and other health issues. Lots of people consume a bit too much sodium than they need already, so make sure to check with your doctor before taking a bunch more.
Potassium is an important electrolyte that helps regulate muscle and nerve function, which is crucial for hikers who are using their muscles for prolonged periods of time.
When you sweat, you lose potassium, as well, which can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and weakness if not replenished.
As a hiker, you probably know that there is nothing worse than dealing with cramps and fatigue while attempting to reach a destination.
Just as with sodium, you can find potassium in food, too. Natural food sources of potassium for hikers include bananas, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, and leafy greens.
Hikers should aim to consume between 2,000 and 3,000 mg of potassium per day, again depending on factors such as your weight, activity level, and climate. One banana has 422mg of potassium, so that could be a great mid-hike snack to help you fill up your potassium stores.
Like sodium, it’s important to consume potassium regularly during a hike to maintain proper electrolyte balance. Aim to replenish your electrolyte levels every couple of hours to be in the clear.
Electrolyte supplements that contain potassium, such as sports drinks or powders, can help hikers replenish lost potassium quickly and efficiently. However, these supplements have high doses of potassium, so be careful not to overdo it with that, as excessive intake can lead to nausea, vomiting, and other health issues.
Magnesium is an important electrolyte that helps regulate muscle and nerve function, as well as maintain bone health and immune function.
You have probably already heard that magnesium helps with muscle cramps. That’s because it plays an important role in neuromuscular transmission and muscle contraction. As a hiker, this is important to know since it will help you to walk further and heighten your performance.
Magnesium is lost through sweating, which can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and weakness if not replenished.
Of course, this mineral is also found in food, not just supplements. Natural food sources of magnesium for hikers include nuts, seeds, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and legumes.
Athletes of any kind should aim to consume between 300 and 500 mg of magnesium per day. That’s not too bad, given that one cup of almonds already contains 247mg!
Just like sodium and potassium, it’s important to consume magnesium regularly during a hike to maintain proper electrolyte balance. The great thing about electrolytes is that they are found in very similar foods.
So, a banana for example will provide you with some potassium and some magnesium!
Of course, taking a magnesium supplement or an electrolyte supplement is a lot quicker and more efficient, since you can mix it into your water.
Be wary of excessive magnesium intake though, since it can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and other health issues.
Calcium is an important electrolyte that helps maintain bone health and muscle function, which is crucial for hikers who are putting stress on their bones and muscles.
Having depleted levels of calcium can lead to weakened bones and muscle cramps if not replenished, so it’s vital to stock up on calcium if you plan on going on a longer hike.
Natural food sources of calcium for hikers include dairy products, leafy greens, fortified cereals, and nuts.
Yup, the milk commercials that told you to drink their product for stronger bones weren’t wrong!
As a hiker, you should aim to consume between 1,000 and 1,500 mg of calcium per day, which equates to about 3 cups of milk.
Like other electrolytes, it’s necessary to consume calcium regularly during a hike to maintain proper electrolyte balance.
However, it can be challenging to consume enough calcium on a long hike, especially for those who are lactose intolerant or don’t eat dairy products.
In this case, it may be helpful to take a calcium supplement, such as a chewable tablet or a powder that can be added to water or other beverages.
As with any supplement, you should make sure to talk to a healthcare professional before consuming supplements like that on a regular basis.
Combination Electrolyte Supplements
Combination electrolyte supplements are products that contain a mixture of different electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
As you can probably imagine, these supplements can be helpful for hikers who want to ensure they’re getting a balanced combination of electrolytes to support their performance and hydration.
You will find combination electrolyte supplements in various forms, including powders, tablets, capsules, and sports drinks.
The great thing about combination supplements is that they sometimes also contain carbohydrates or other ingredients to provide energy for your hike. This allows you to kill two birds with one stone – you get energy while also replenishing all your electrolytes at once.
When choosing a combination electrolyte supplement, it’s important to read the label carefully to ensure it contains the appropriate balance of electrolytes for your needs. This is where a little research and, if possible, cooperation with your healthcare professional come in handy since they can show you what and how much of it you truly need.
It’s also important to choose a supplement that is easy to carry and consume on a hike, such as a powder that can be added to a water bottle or a chewable tablet. When it comes to supplements, you want them to be as convenient as possible.
How to Stay Hydrated on the Trail
No matter which workout you do outside, whether it’s hiking, trail running, climbing, or anything else – you need to stay hydrated.
The rules for proper hydration stay the same no matter what sport you choose to do. First off, you want to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike to stay properly hydrated.
In order to be able to do that, you need to start with the proper preparation. Bring enough water with you to meet your estimated fluid needs for your hike. Some trails will have springs or other water sources on the way, but if you are unsure, you should guarantee to bring plenty of water with you.
There are various ways to do this. You could consider using a hydration pack or water bottles that are easy to access while moving.
However, bringing the water is only the first step, the really crucial part is regularly remembering to hydrate.
Take regular water breaks, ideally every 15-20 minutes, to avoid becoming dehydrated.
While this may be harder to do in the great outdoors, you can monitor your urine color to determine if you’re adequately hydrated. Clear or light yellow urine is a good sign, while dark yellow or amber urine indicates dehydration.
In addition to water, consider drinking sports drinks or electrolyte supplements to replace lost electrolytes and enhance hydration.
The great thing about electrolyte drinks is that not only do they replenish your lost minerals, but they actually help your body absorb the water you drink more efficiently!
It might sound like a no-brainer, but you should avoid drinking beverages that can dehydrate you, such as alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Sure, coffee to get your energy up and get the day started is fine, but make sure that the vast majority of your beverages are hydrating.
Did you know that you can get hydrated through food as well?
Eating hydrating foods such as fruits, vegetables, and soups during breaks can supplement your hydration.
We kept emphasizing that you lose both water and electrolytes through sweating, so taking steps to stay cool, such as wearing lightweight, breathable clothing and using a hat to provide shade can really play a huge role in keeping you hydrated.
Whether it’s summer or winter, be aware of the signs of dehydration, including fatigue, dry mouth, headache, and dizziness, and take action immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
If you’re hiking in a group, check in with your fellow hikers regularly to make sure everyone is properly hydrated.
Electrolytes are crucial for proper bodily function, so when you go on longer hikes or runs, you should always be aware of the fact that excessive sweating depletes your minerals a lot.
The most important electrolytes for hikers include Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium. All of those can be found in certain foods, but you can also opt for a combination supplement to replenish your electrolytes without much hassle.
When taking a supplement, make sure to check with a doctor first to figure out how much of each mineral you truly need and to avoid taking too much.
All in all, keeping an eye on proper hydration and electrolyte replenishment is key if you want to get the most out of your hikes and reach many more peaks in the future!