Kim Yawitz, RD
Important question: To whom may I direct my complaint letter about this heat and humidity? A weather app I love once described summer days in St. Louis as feeling like Satan’s buttcrack, and I think that’s pretty accurate. A longtime summer hater, my three saving graces during the sticky season are a shaded pool, a box fan at bedtime, and my hydration supplements.
If you’re a CrossFit athlete (or otherwise active person) who also struggles with feeling wiped out during the summer, you might also find hydration supplements helpful. That said, not everyone needs them or even should take them.
In this post, I’ll explain what hydration supplements are and talk you through some ways to know if you might benefit from one.
What are Hydration Supplements?
Hydration supplements are powders, tablets, and sometimes prepared drinks that help you stay hydrated by providing extra electrolytes.
Electrolytes are minerals that help with a LOT of important bodily functions. Here are some of the cool things they do:
- Regulate fluid balance.
- Control the transmission of nerve signals, including those in your heart and your muscles.
- Maintain a healthy balance of acidity and alkalinity in the body (aka, pH balance).
- Promote tissue growth.
- Enable muscle contractions, including the skeletal muscles you use during your workout but also your heart!
Our bodies make some electrolytes, like bicarbonate, in sufficient amounts. And so, we don’t need to focus much on getting those in the diet.
But other important electrolytes—like sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium—come exclusively from the diet.
Getting enough of these electrolytes is super important, simply because of the number of important roles they play in the body. But there’s another side to the electrolyte equation.
Losing electrolytes can also cause you to feel pretty ick and increase your risk of health problems. This is very common with tummy bugs (perhaps you’ve heard of Pedialyte? It’s an electrolyte drink!). Day to day, people who sweat a lot are also at higher risk of electrolyte imbalances.
Fatigue, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps during and after your hot, sweaty workouts are all signs that you might need to supplement with electrolytes.
Should You Be Using Hydration Supplements?
The question of whether to use hydration supplements ultimately comes down to your exercise habits, your sweat tendencies, and your overall diet.
If your diet includes lots of processed and/or restaurant foods, or you add table salt to everything you eat, you probably get enough sodium and chloride. In fact, about 90% of American adults get more than enough sodium in the diet.
That said, you may need a bit of help with magnesium and potassium if your diet isn’t so balanced.
The best way for most people to get these nutrients is to eat a good variety of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
But back to the sodium! Athletes who follow the guidance of limiting added salt in the diet could actually suffer for their healthy ways during the summer.
Low dietary sodium intake combined with intense workouts in the heat increases the odds of electrolyte deficiency.
CrossFit workouts are generally pretty fast, but they are performed at high intensity. To add to that, our gym is perfect AND it doesn’t have air conditioning.
Considering St. Louis regularly hits 90+ degrees with an average humidity around 67% in the summer, pretty much every workout this time of year is a sweat fest.
If, like me, you’re a sweaty Betty who shuns the salt shaker, you might benefit from an electrolyte supplement during sweatier metcons.
Other groups who may want to consider supplementing include salty sweaters (meaning, their sweat tastes salty and/or they get a white residue on the skin and clothes after a workout), and those who have especially sweaty jobs.
The Bottom Line
CrossFit athletes who do long or intense workouts in the heat AND who don’t use much salt may benefit from hydration supplements.
It’s never a bad idea to discuss the idea with you doctor first whenever starting a new supplement. This is especially true for those at increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Once you have the green light, feel free to give it a go! I use LMNT, which provides sodium, magnesium, and potassium with no sugar. We carry it at the gym in single servings and 30-day supplies. Grab some next time you’re in!