Electrolytes • Tasks and symptoms of electrolyte deficiency

Electrolytes play an important role in the water balance and metabolism. The body loses a lot of fluids and thus also electrolytes, especially during exercise and diarrhea. These should be returned to him in order to avoid a deficiency. Which foods contain electrolytes and how to recognize a deficiency.

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What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals that regulate and coordinate important functions in the body. In an aqueous environment, they break down into positively or negatively charged particles. The ratio of the electrolyte composition is precisely measured inside and outside the cells. The body uses the concentration to control whether fluid flows in or out of compartments such as cells. For example, if the electrolyte concentration inside a cell is high, liquid flows in. The process is also known as osmosis. The organism actively pumps electrolytes into or out of cells. However, the whole principle only works if the fluid balance is right.

The human body consists of over 60 percent water. Most of it is in the cells, for example in the blood. Sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium play a decisive role in the electrolyte balance. They support the regulation of nerve and muscle function.

Functions of the electrolytes in the body

In addition to blood, gastric juices, stool or urine contain electrolytes. An electrolyte deficiency as well as an excess of electrolytes can lead to problems. To prevent this, the kidneys control the electrolyte balance in the blood.

Electrolytes are involved in various body functions:

  • Control of nerve and muscle function
  • Balancing the water balance in the body
  • Regulation of acidity

Insufficient Electrolytes: Recognizing Symptoms

The symptoms of electrolyte deficiency can be varied. Depending on which mineral the body lacks, the following effects are possible:

A blood or urine test can be used to determine whether there is an electrolyte deficiency. After a medical diagnosis, the appropriate therapy can be initiated.

Causes of Electrolyte Deficiency

Loss of electrolytes can occur under the following circumstances:

A deficiency in sodium and chloride, for example, is mainly caused by increased physical activity and sweating. Potassium deficiency can be followed by medications such as diuretics, which are commonly used for high blood pressure.

Electrolyte deficiency due to exercise?

With the liquid, the body also loses the minerals it contains, which as electrolytes play an important role in the metabolism. In order to maintain all body functions, these minerals should be returned to the body. This is essential, especially for athletes, as these substances regulate muscle and nerve cells. Cramps are an all too well-known consequence. That is why many athletes use isotonic drinks.

Prevent electrolyte deficiency and drink enough

How much fluids a person should consume every day is discussed again and again. The German Nutrition Society recommends a daily intake of at least 1.5 liters. In addition, there is another liter that is ingested with food, as well as 350 milliliters (ml) of oxidation water that is created when food is metabolized.

However, the water present in the body is also released back into the environment:

  • 150 ml over the stool
  • 550 ml via the lungs
  • 550 ml over the skin
  • 1,600 ml via the urine

Excessive sweating, for example through exercise or sauna visits, or diarrheal diseases lead to further fluid loss. Of course, this must be compensated for by increased fluid intake.

Excess of electrolytes

If the elimination of electrolytes is disturbed, if there is a distribution disorder or if there is an increased absorption of electrolytes, an excess can arise in the body.

  • Excess of sodium: Drinking salt water and taking excessive amounts of sodium chloride can lead to an excess. A very heavy loss of water, e.g. through profuse sweating or burns, can lead to so-called hypernatremia. Although this does not increase the absolute sodium content in the body, the lack of fluids leads to a relative increase in the electrolyte.

  • Excess of potassium: If kidney function is impaired, hyperkalemia can occur. Foods with a high potassium content add to the risk. Other diseases that can cause an excess of potassium are hormonal disorders such as insulin deficiency, breakdown of muscle cells or red blood cells.

  • Excess of calcium: Calcium is mainly found in bones. Diseases that cause bone cells to break down often lead to the release of calcium into the blood. Examples can be bone metastases or a chondroblastoma. The use of certain medications (vitamin D supplements) or an overactive parathyroid gland are also possible triggers.

  • Excess of chloride: Hyperchloremia can result from kidney failure or the use of diuretics, among other things.

Which foods contain electrolytes?

Electrolytes come in different forms in a wide variety of foods and beverages:

Sodium and chloride

This duo is better known as table salt. Important: Too much salt can have a negative effect on blood pressure. According to the German Nutrition Society, the recommended daily dose of sodium is 1,500 milligrams, and of chloride 2,300 milligrams per day for an adult. If you sweat more, for example through exercise, the intake should be increased.


The mineral is found in almost all foods. Whole grain products, nuts, legumes and fresh fruit usually contain a lot of magnesium. A magnesium deficiency often manifests itself in fatigue, muscle cramps and fatigue. Women aged 25 and over should take in 300 milligrams daily, men 350 milligrams.

Magnesium suppliers: from quark and cheese to banana


In contrast to sodium, potassium is hardly lost through sweat. Nevertheless, potassium should be supplemented in the event of severe fluid loss. The recommended daily allowance for potassium is 4,000 milligrams per day. Breastfeeding women should ingest 4,400 milligrams. Wheat bran is a valuable source of potassium, as are legumes, dried fruit and nuts.

Sodium and potassium can hardly be separated from one another in terms of occurrence and effect. Both play an important role in the water balance, control muscle contractions and transmit nerve signals to the muscles.


The best-known suppliers of calcium are dairy products, especially parmesan. But even people with lactose intolerance and vegans can meet their calcium needs with foods such as fortified soy drinks, fruit juices, mineral water, whole grain products, almonds, sesame seeds and green vegetables.

Vitamin C promotes the absorption of calcium. A combination of fruit and / or vegetables is therefore ideal. Calcium, in combination with vitamin D, helps build and maintain bones. In addition, the mineral – just like magnesium – is important for muscle contraction.

You can eat as much of these foods as you want!

Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.

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