If you have played sports or seen a Gatorade commercial on tv, you are undoubtedly aware of electrolytes. But do you know what they are and why they are important to us?

While on the ketogenic diet especially when first starting your micronutrients and electrolytes, which include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium tend to drop and that can cause symptoms of the keto flu.

This decrease in electrolytes happens due to increased water, glycogen and electrolyte excretion as insulin levels naturally drop in the absence of carbohydrates.

Insulin is responsible for much more than just controlling the glucose level in your body as you can see from its effect on water and electrolytes.

(Side note: If you have type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes taking insulin medication your bodies response is affected by how much insulin you are taking in addition to water and micronutrient consumption)

Keto Electrolytes Imbalance

Many people experience electrolyte imbalances and dehydration when they first get started on this way of eating because your body generates smaller amounts of insulin and glycogen stores are depleted. When you consider for every gram of glycogen stored our bodies also store three grams of water. This depletion of glycogen is what leads to losing many pounds of water weight at the beginning of keto.

This is a great feeling and can be good motivation early on especially as you see the scale move in addition to feeling less bloated. But keep in mind you are also losing key micronutrients and electrolytes that our bodies need.

These micronutrients are critical in small quantities for our survival. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are charged substances required to maintain standard bodily functions.

What Are Electrolytes And Why Are They Important?

A chemistry professor would tell you an electrolyte is a compound which produces ions when dissolved or mixed with water. These ions have either a positive or negative electrical charge and are why we call them electro-lytes.

So to keep it simple we refer to electrolytes as minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge that hydrate the body, control nerve and muscle function, balance blood pressure and acidity, and help rebuild damaged tissue.

You lose electrolytes when you sweat or urinate so you must replace them by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain electrolytes. Important to note water alone does not contain electrolytes.

Essential Electrolytes And The Effect Of A Keto Diet

There are many electrolytes found in the body, each serving an important role, but most are involved in maintaining the balance of fluids between the inside and outside of the cells. We will discuss the four we hear most about in the keto and nutritional world, but if you are curious, you can read more about other electrolytes here.

Sodium (Na+)

Sodium is an essential electrolyte for humans that helps the body regulate blood pressure, water levels and pH balance. As noted above when you decrease your carb intake your insulin levels drop which leads to excretion of both water and sodium. You need to consume a minimum of 500mg per day for your body to function properly.

If you feel lightheaded, it can be a sign of low blood pressure, and it’s possible that you may need to increase your sodium intake. Please note: If you experience this often it might be a good idea to have your blood pressure checked by a doctor.

Potassium (K+)

Potassium is a crucial mineral that assists the body to maintain proper pH balance, build proteins, regulate the electrical activity of the heart and support healthy growth. Much like sodium, potassium levels can drop due to water excretion while on keto. Meat and vegetables serve as a good source of potassium. Bananas are thought of as a great source of potassium, but since we can’t eat bananas on keto you will need to find other more ketogenic friendly foods to make sure you are getting enough potassium in your diet.

Magnesium (Mg++)

Magnesium serves many functions in our bodies like regulating blood glucose levels, helping energy generation, encouraging a healthy immune system, regular heart rate, in addition to normal muscle and nerve functions. Magnesium deficiencies are common even when not following a ketogenic diet, but may also need to be supplemented due to the excretion of crucial minerals from low insulin levels in the absence of high carbs.

You can buy a magnesium supplement or eat more healthy avocados, spices, leafy green vegetables, low carb nuts like almonds, pumpkin seeds, and Hazelnuts and even coffee or tea.

Calcium (Ca++)

Calcium is essential to cardiovascular health, transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and blood clotting. Calcium deficiency is usually not an issue for those following a ketogenic lifestyle since we get lots of calcium from the healthy whole foods we eat like cheese, fish, broccoli, almonds, sardines, and greens.

How To Replenish Electrolytes

The good news is once you become keto-adapted your body tends to return electrolyte levels back to normal. But you may have to continue to supplement sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium depending on how you feel, the types of food you are eating and how often you are exercising. Eating a healthy, whole food diet will help you keep your electrolytes balanced.
In my personal experience sodium is a big one for me as I exercise regularly, so I like to supplement sodium with Himalayan Pink Salt. Experts in the ketogenic diet world like Dr. Stephen Phinney recommends 3 to 5 grams of sodium and 2 to 3 grams of potassium daily for individuals who exercise regularly.

Keto Electrolyte Supplements

You can get all of these nutrients from the food you eat, but there are a few supplements you can check out if you prefer the ease and measured amounts of micronutrients in a powder or vitamin supplement form.

Click Here to see our recommended keto supplement options

Drink Lots Of Water to Avoid Keto Dehydration

Our bodies are made up of mostly water, and it is essential to how we feel. You need to drink lots of water each day. Just like how we lose electrolytes due to a drop in insulin when we start eating less carbs it also causes your kidneys to release more water. You need to replenish that water to prevent dehydration and help prevent symptoms of the keto flu.
dehydration drink water

Avoid Electrolyte Imbalances And Stay Hydrated

Whether just starting a ketogenic diet or you’ve been eating this way for a long time it’s important to get the right amount of electrolytes and water each day to avoid things like the keto flu and other potential health-related issues from a lack of minerals or water.

A quick recap of suggestions to deal with keto electrolyte imbalances, the keto flu and drinking enough water:

  • Insulin production decreases and glycogen is depleted
  • Water and key electrolytes are excreted in water loss
  • Electrolytes are important and help maintain a healthy body
  • Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium need to be replenished
  • Healthy whole foods and or supplements help balance electrolytes
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration

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