Intermittent fasting (IF) has become a popular dietary choice in the last few years, and rightfully so. With a wide range of benefits from spirituality to weight loss, cell repair to heart health, it seems the world is yet again catching on to this timeless method for human improvement.
What exactly is intermittent fasting? In a nutshell, it’s a practice in which a person restricts their eating to certain times. There are countless variations of this depending on an individual’s goals and lifestyle, such as the 16/8 method in which a person fasts for 16 hours a day and eats only during the 8 hour period, the 5/2 method, which consists of fasting completely for 2 days out of the week, the 18/6 method which is like 16/8, only different hours, and the list goes on.
However, with increasing popularity comes the need for increased awareness. In the case of IF, knowing how your body will change during the process will help you anticipate unique needs so that you can stay ahead of your wellness. For example, eating during select times can cause dehydration and, subsequently, loss of electrolytes, which play a crucial role in keeping our bodies healthy and functioning optimally.
Read on to find out how to stay hydrated while fasting and keeping your electrolytes in a healthy range.
Why do you need electrolytes while fasting?
You need electrolytes all the time, but even more so when you’re fasting in order to support the critical functions and processes within your body that these essential elements help to run smoothly.
IF can lead to imbalances in important minerals and electrolytes if proper care isn’t taken. Eating the wrong foods or not enough of the right foods, for example, is one reason we might miss out on these essential elements of our diet.
Another cause of electrolyte deficiencies is dehydration, as the body will automatically start losing electrolytes when our body isn’t hydrated. This can also lead to fasting headaches.
Drinking enough water (about half your body weight in ounces) when fasting as well as during your eating period can help you keep electrolyte levels in a healthy range.
What electrolytes do you need?
Sodium is an alkali metal as well as an electrolyte and is an essential part of our diet. While too much sodium can be damaging to our health, too little isn’t a good thing, either. It contributes to important functions like nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and maintaining balanced levels of water and minerals.
Unfortunately, many people believe that all sodium is bad and, consequently, don’t consume enough (if any at all). This can be a dangerous mistake, as sodium deficiency can cause such issues as nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, and even coma. To stay balanced and avoid these negative effects, it’s important to get the recommended amount of sodium daily, without going over or falling short.
Potassium is also an alkali metal as well as an electrolyte and is another essential contributor to several bodily functions. It assists in digestion, heart rate, maintaining optimum blood pressure and fluid levels, nerve impulses and muscle contractions, and keeps the body’s PH balanced.
Less than 2% of Americans consume the daily recommended amount of potassium, though it’s not as easy to become deficient as some of the other minerals. While certain medical conditions require potassium restriction, most of us benefit from the daily recommended amount, however it’s not always as easy to achieve as we might like.
Magnesium is an alkaline earth metal, and an especially important one at that. Every cell in our bodies needs it to function, and it is responsible for hundreds of processes that keep us alive and well. It’s essential for helping to form protein, maintain the nervous system, contract and relax muscles, create energy from our food intake, and even create and repair DNA/RNA, just to name a few.
Even with its high importance as a staple of our health, Magnesium deficiency is a common condition. As it contributes to so many processes and functions, it’s extra important to maintain healthy levels of this mineral.
How much of each electrolyte do you need?
Different amounts are required of each electrolyte, as they aren’t created equally. It’s not always easy to determine how much of each you’re already consuming, but with some research, it can be figured out. Here’s a little guide on how much of each is recommended for optimum health:
Sodium: 500 mg a day
Potassium: 3,500-4,700 mg a day
Magnesium: 310-420 mg a day (depending on age and sex)
When do you need additional electrolytes?
While many people can get adequate hydration and electrolytes from eating and drinking water during the day, adding electrolytes to your normal diet may be necessary if you’re doing strenuous activity, in high heat, recovering from being sick or other instances where you need rapid hydration and balance.
Electrolytes help regulate your body temperature, deliver nutrients to cells, prevent infections and keep your organs functioning properly, so making sure you’re not deficient in these minerals will steadily improve your body and wellbeing.
Types of electrolyte supplements
If at all possible, getting these essential elements through our food intake is ideal. However, given that IF can be restrictive with eating times, it’s understandable that it’s not always going to work out this way. If it’s not realistic to get your requirements met during your eating period, there are other options to consider:
For years, our go-to recommendation for hydration salts was Pedialyte. Unfortunately, it’s loaded with sugar! In the last couple of years, startups have started releasing fasting-friendly electrolyte powders. These are made with effective ingredients, little to no sugar and are tasty and easy to consume with meals throughout the day or just mixed in water.
Electrolyte Infused Water
Electrolyte water has been popular for some time now, and it’s a good start in getting your daily requirements met. It likely won’t meet all your needs; however, it’s better than getting no electrolytes at all. If some of your daily requirements have been met and you’re wondering what to drink while fasting, electrolyte water can be a nice boost to keep your levels maintained. Just don’t rely on it to do the whole job, as it will fall short.
Bone broth has been used for centuries to cure whatever ails us and is rich in essential minerals and electrolytes. Depending on how strict you’re being with regards to your fasting, this could be a great way to ensure you get any electrolytes you might have missed during your eating period. Everyone has their own rules and preferences, so this one may not be for you. However, it’s something to consider if you’re looking for a way to supplement what you’re missing.
Electrolytes for intermittent fasting
While electrolytes are necessary for maintaining many of your body’s processes, they’re especially helpful to consume throughout your fasting schedule. Making sure you have the proper amount of nutrients and water to support your system through fasting periods and to help you absorb the nutrients you need when it’s time to eat.
But how do they affect your fasting schedule and rhythm? They’re more beneficial than hindering.
- Will electrolytes break a fast?
Pure electrolytes contain no calories, so electrolytes by themselves will not break your fast. It’s when you reach for sugary electrolyte drinks that you risk interrupting your fasting window.
- Will electrolytes give you energy?
Electrolytes aren’t an energy booster, but they’re necessary for processes that affect your energy level. If you’re lacking electrolytes, however, you’ll notice a hit in your energy.
- Will electrolytes keep you awake?
Generally, electrolytes won’t affect your sleep much unless you’re consuming them with sugar or caffeine. In fact, making sure you’re keeping your electrolytes and hydration at optimal levels can actually help improve your sleep. Magnesium, which can work to enhance sleep, is also included in some electrolyte supplements.
- Can you have too many electrolytes?
Your body is working to maintain a balance of electrolytes in your system, so having an imbalance of too many electrolytes, particularly magnesium and potassium, could cause diarrhea, nausea, or disruption to your heart rhythm, among other things. It’s best to drink electrolytes in moderation or as needed. You should stop supplements and speak to your doctor if you develop concerning symptoms.
IF can be a great way to boost your overall health, as well as help with certain conditions you may be experiencing. However, becoming dehydrated and losing electrolytes is a risk, so it’s important to make sure you’re consuming what you need to stay healthy.
The bottom line here is simple: stay adequately hydrated, eat as healthily as you possibly can, and supplement with (healthy) alternatives when necessary.
If you want more guidance preparing for and during your fast, our fasting coaches can help you choose a plan, personalize it for your needs and provide one-on-one guidance throughout your practice when you have questions or need motivation. Access to a qualified coach will make a big impact on your fasting journey and reaching your wellness goals.