Electrolytes and Muscle Soreness

Electrolytes and Muscle Soreness

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


Understanding how our bodies and nutrients relate is fundamental in fitness, with electrolytes playing an especially crucial role for muscle function and health.

In this article we aim to educate and persuade readers of the importance of electrolyte replenishment strategies aimed at fitness enthusiasts; such practices improve workout performance as well as recovery after workout sessions.

Electrolytes such as magnesium are crucial in providing essential hydration to both muscles and exercise performance, potassium and sodium all play key roles in muscle contraction, hydration and nutrient transport - electrolyte imbalances due to magnesium deficiencies may result in cramps, myalgia or weakness.

Electrolytes Are Key for Muscle Function

Electrolytes are unsung heroes of your body's inner workings, keeping everything running smoothly so you feel your best and perform at your peak performance.

Electrolytes play an essential role in nerve and muscle transmission of action potentials as well as maintaining optimal hydration levels and pH balance within your system.

Electrolytes are minerals that become charged particles called ions when they dissolve into body fluids, like blood.

Major electrolytes in blood include sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), chloride, phosphates and bicarbonates dissolved into body water as ions that conduct electricity depending on their charge; for instance cations like sodium and potassium carry positive charges while anions such as chloride, phosphates and biscarbonate carry negative charges.

How the body becomes low on electrolytes is complex and differs between individuals, but can often be caused by exercise-related sweating, dehydration, taking certain medications or drinking too much alcohol, diarrhea or eating disorders as well as side effects from taking diuretics.

Symptoms may range from mild to severe depending on the source.

Diet is the key to maintaining an ideal electrolyte balance. A diet rich in lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, yogurt and fruit contains essential electrolytes like phosphorus and potassium that contribute to overall wellness.

In addition, be sure to drink lots of water or sports drinks throughout the day and eat electrolyte-rich food prior and post workout to fuel up and ensure success!

Hence the necessity of meeting daily electrolyte requirements during physical activities for improved recovery and balanced electrolyte levels during exercise sessions.

Electrolytes play an integral part in muscle function and recovery:


  • Regulates both muscle and nerve function. 
  • Facilitating relaxation by counteracting calcium's stimulating action on muscles contraction. 
  • As part of MgATP complex formation during muscle contraction it promotes actomyosin dissociation during contraction process.


  • Potassium is important in both regulation of muscular and neural activity as well as aiding relaxation through countering calcium's stimulating action 
  • Forming complex with MgATP to promote actomyosin dissociation during contraction 


  • These nutrients play a key role in nerve cell signals for muscle contraction.
  • When coupled with potassium, sodium helps ensure membrane potential required to facilitate this muscle activity remains constant and muscle contraction takes place more easily.

One way of replenishing after exercise are post-workout hydration solutions such as sports drinks packed with magnesium electrolytes.

Sports drinks are widely recognized as among the best electrolyte replacement drinks and provide athletes with optimal hydration, but electrolyte products as well as natural foods like bananas, chia seeds and nuts can be effective sources.

Each method offers advantages; sports drinks provide quick sources, electrolyte mixes can customize dosages with flexible dosage control while natural foods can replenish other nutrients and satisfy hunger - it just depends on which approach works for each individual's preferences and needs!

This article takes readers from pain to gain, exploring how electrolyte replenishment affects recovery.


Electrolytes are minerals with electric charges found throughout your body that have various functions, they're in your blood, tissues, urine and other body fluids. Their primary role is balancing both your water level and acid/base (pH) level to supporting muscle contraction and nerve signaling.

Key electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and phosphorus play an essential role in muscle performance and recovery.

Magnesium in particular plays an essential role in marathon runners and endurance athletes as it reduces cramps and soreness during prolonged events.

A study like MAGNAK Hydration Study published by Journal of Exercise and Nutrition suggests that supplementing after exercise with magnesium-rich electrolyte mixes considered among the top magnesium supplements for runners can lessen muscle cramping significantly during half marathon runners.

Unbalances may put strain on muscle function by increasing intracellular sodium levels and disrupting muscle cells' optimal functionality resulting in post-exercise muscle soreness - both of which hinder recovery and performance for athletes.

Understanding and replenishing important recovery electrolytes is integral for an athlete's performance, recovery, and muscle health. Consuming natural food sources of magnesium, potassium and phosphorus is required in their diet for maximum benefits.

Acknowledging symptoms of electrolyte imbalance and working towards correcting levels through proper nutrition and hydration should be the goal.

Electrolyte Imbalance can manifest with numerous signs and symptoms including:

Magnesium Imbalance:

  • Muscle cramps, twitching, numbness and tingling
  • Weight Loss; Nausea, Vomiting, Fatigue and Weakness

Potassium Imbalance:

  • Weakness/fatigue
  • Muscle weakness/cramps
  • Paralysis of the bowl and respiratory failure

Phosphorus Imbalance:

  • Diarrhea
  • Organ and soft tissue calcification,
  • Iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc deficiencies and issues regarding their use
  • Osteoporosis as well as dental issues may all result from inadequacies of phosphorus levels

Evolve your diet and hydration strategies can significantly boost an athlete's health and performance.

Electrolyte Replenishment Can Benefit Athletes

Electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium are integral for athletes looking to maximize performance.

Electrolyte replenishment increases endurance, prevents muscle cramps and even promotes overall wellbeing among many other benefits.

One key benefit of maintaining optimal electrolyte levels is improved endurance.

Physical exertion causes sweat-induced loss of salts from sweat glands, potentially creating an electrolyte imbalance that affects performance and endurance levels.

Maintaining adequate sodium and potassium levels while exercising helps sustain muscle and neurological function and is integral in prolonging athletic performances by combatting fatigue while helping athletes sustain higher performance levels for extended durations.

Muscle cramps can significantly hinder an athlete's performance, sometimes to the extent of stopping them altogether.

I personally experienced this while ruuning a particularly warm marathon in Vienna. I was sweating much more than I had experienced during my training runs, and I wasn't acclimatised to the heat.

This resulted in calf cramps that, in some cases, reduced my progress to a slow jog. This was a contributing factor to include electrolytes in Military Muscle.

Proper electrolyte management may reduce cramp-related risks during endurance sports competition.

Health experts advise people engaging in physical activities to monitor fluid loss and replenish it accordingly, both before and after physical exertion.

Muscle Cramps

Loss of sodium is one of the primary causes of cramps. Cramping serves as your body's signal that its electrolytes have run low, and it often only takes time before this reaches critical mass and causes irreparable damage.

Athletes must ensure they consume adequate electrolyte replenishment during physical activity.

This may involve fueling with drinks and snacks containing these minerals as well as eating nutrient-rich foods and supplements to meet individual electrolyte needs; individuals should monitor these needs closely and consult a trained healthcare provider or sports nutritionist for personalized guidance.

When we hear "electrolytes," most people picture bright-colored sports drinks. But there are other natural sources of electrolytes which may help support performance and hydration goals as well.

Vigorous exercise and hot weather both cause sweating, which depletes both water and electrolytes from your body and leads to dehydration, negatively impacting performance and leading to dehydration.

Without adequate replacement of these losses, they could cause dehydration and significantly limit performance.

Water and electrolyte loss is easily avoidable through eating a diet rich in sodium and minerals, drinking enough fluids during exercise and sipping an electrolyte-enriched beverage during training sessions, or by supplementing with supplements like electrolytes or sports drinks.

Consumption of such beverages is strongly encouraged if prolonged or intense exercise is planned, particularly under hot and humid conditions that increase sweat rates and intensity.

Since sodium losses can more readily be replenished than water loss, easily replacing them through foods and beverages such as mixed nuts, baked potato chips, pretzels, pickles or sports drinks is recommended.

The aforementioned study published by Journal of Exercise and Nutrition shows the benefits of magnesium supplementation during this process.

Researchers demonstrated that supplementing with magnesium-rich electrolyte mix, MAGNAK, reduced both frequency and severity of muscle cramps experienced during half marathon running.

Participants who used MAGNAK experienced significantly fewer cramps compared with those drinking only water; further underscoring magnesium's role despite minimal sweat loss.

Key Points include:

  • Replenish electrolytes to decrease muscle cramp risk during endurance sports and support proper muscle function and avoid cramps.
  • Ultimately, electrolytes promote good health in muscles to ensure good performance without cramping issues.
  • Hydration and electrolyte balance can help prevent exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC).

Electrolyte replenishment is also vitally important when it comes to effective hydration strategies, helping promote quick recovery times while prepping the body for future exertions and correcting imbalances caused by sweat loss, leading to optimal body functions.

Electrolyte Replenishment's Effect on Muscle Recovery

Electrolyte replenishment, (essential for both short- and long-term muscle recovery), becomes especially essential after heavy physical activities lead to significant electrolyte losses through sweat.

Electrolytes like magnesium and potassium play an integral part in muscle function and repair; replenishing them may reduce post-exercise muscle soreness or cramps while improving performance levels and increasing overall recovery process.

Integrating electrolyte replenishment strategies into post-exercise routines results in significant gains for muscle recovery.

Not only can electrolytes replenishment help ease cramp discomfort but it can also speed the long-term healing trajectory, expediting return-to-activities faster with improved performance and reduced pain levels.

Your daily electrolyte needs can usually be met through eating healthily and drinking enough fluids, although heavy sweaters or athletes that exercise for extended periods may require electrolyte-rich beverages like coconut water, hydration mixes, milk, fruit juices or sports drinks that contain electrolytes to meet their requirements for sodium, potassium, calcium chloride magnesium phosphates.

While electrolyte supplements offer significant advantages in aiding athlete recovery, it's critical that athletes use caution in selecting magnesium and potassium dosage levels for maximum muscle recovery while mitigating potential health risks.

How Electrolytes Aid Workout Recovery

Electrolytes play an essential role in speeding recovery following rigorous workouts.

Electrolyte minerals - including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium - replenish what was lost through sweat to keep fluid balance optimal and support muscle functions.

Electrolytes after workouts also play an instrumental role in relieving cramps while improving hydration levels for increased recovery time.

Undergoing rigorous workouts can dramatically alter one's electrolyte balance due to perspiration.

Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride calcium and phosphates play a key role in nerve excitability, body fluid buffering and transport of materials within our bodies; taking electrolytes during or post intense physical exercise will help ensure equilibrium, helping avoid symptoms like fainting and supporting muscle nerve function, heart rate regulation and overall body functionality.

Evidence indicates electrolyte imbalances, particularly potassium and phosphorus deficiencies, may impede muscle recovery.

According to research in the American Journal of Medicine, certain electrolyte and divalent ion deficiencies.

More specifically potassium and phosphorus deficiencies could account for these findings, specifically potassium and phosphorus deficits which might reduce muscle blood flow while disrupting glycogen synthesis for energy replenishment as well as supporting muscle cell membrane transport across muscle cell membranes.

Glycogen synthesis provides essential energy replenishment as well as supports muscle cell membrane transport thus decreasing blood flow while impairing glycogen synthesis which contributes energy replenishment while supporting transport across muscles cells themselves.

Imbalances may also result in elevated calcium ion levels in the sarcoplasm, activating autodestructive proteases which threaten cell integrity and may increase muscle cell damage after strenuous workouts if electrolyte balances are left unmanaged.

According to James P. Knochel M.D, evidence supports his statement "If calcium levels reach critical elevated values within a cell's sarcoplasm then autodestructive proteases may become activated, leading to irreparable cell destruction destroying its integrity".

Consequently this could increase muscle cell damage following strenuous workouts which could result in irreparable muscle cell damage leading to irreversible muscle cell damage without electrolyte balance management being properly managed resulting in irreparable muscle cell damage which cannot be reversed, as outlined in this study.

Therefore this points towards irreversible muscle cell damage being sustained following strenuous workouts without properly managing electrolytes levels. 

Replenishing electrolytes post-workout is essential to successful recovery and will prevent muscle cramps while supporting cell functions. A tailored electrolyte mix can significantly speed recovery while aiding performance.

Select the Appropriate Electrolyte Mix

An optimal electrolyte mix is key for athletes seeking to optimize hydration strategies and speed recovery from physical activities.

Magnesium's contribution to muscle contraction and relaxation as well as maintaining neurological function and the release of neurotransmitters underlines its significance, with adequate magnesium consumption being crucial for optimal athlete performance.

Being sure to consume sufficient quantities can ensure proper hydration levels are reached while mitigating muscle cramps while supporting vital body processes essential to success in athletic endeavors.

Consider these criteria when selecting an electrolyte mixture:

1. Magnesium Content

When searching for products containing significant magnesium amounts to reduce muscle cramping and speed up recovery, smart water electrolytes vs Pedialyte could provide the ideal results.

2. Electrolytes Balance:

For optimal fluid retention and muscle functionality, aim for an electrolyte mix containing balanced ratios of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium in addition to magnesium. Such an arrangement helps ensure adequate fluid balance as well as muscle functionality.

3. Minimal Sugars and Additives:

Select mixes containing minimal added sugars and unnecessary additives, prioritizing those offering bioavailable electrolytes in their purest forms.

Due to increased sweating and metabolic requirements, athletes tend to deplete their magnesium stores more rapidly; it's therefore critical that enough is replenished back into the system in time.

Before selecting an electrolyte supplement, athletes should assess their overall nutrition and hydration strategies. Factors like sweat rate, activity intensity level and personal dietary requirements could play a factor in making an informed decision about which supplement best meets their needs.

By prioritizing magnesium supplements that meet specific criteria, athletes can better optimize their hydration strategy and decrease muscle cramping while simultaneously supporting recovery processes for improved performance and wellbeing.

This strategy may reduce muscle cramps while aiding recovery processes resulting in sustained performance enhancement and overall wellbeing improvements.

Real World Applications.

Fitness and endurance sports athletes frequently showcase how important proper hydration and electrolyte balance is for performance and recovery, providing compelling evidence of just how crucial electrolyte replenishment can be to enhancing physical performance across an array of activities.

These stories showcase just how crucial electrolyte replenishment and balance are in supporting fitness performance and recovery from strenuous activity.

Athleticians from diverse fields - cycling, swimming and team sports alike - share impressive testimonies about how electrolyte supplementation has met their specific needs.

Cyclists emphasize how essential tabs or capsules were during long rides to prevent cramps and combat fatigue in order to perform at their highest capacity for extended periods.

Swimmers frequently utilize electrolyte-rich drinks prior to and following training sessions as part of an efficient workout regime, increasing endurance while decreasing recovery times for improved recovery rates over time. Such drinks help ensure consistent training schedules as well as performance increases over time.

Team sports players such as football and basketball athletes have also recognized the advantages of employing hydration strategies with electrolytes to maintain peak levels of performance throughout a match while supporting swift recovery between games or during short breaks and afterwards.

Fitness enthusiasts who engage in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or weightlifting commonly describe pre-workout electrolyte drinks as becoming an indispensable component of their regimes.

Such beverages help ensure proper hydration levels, support muscle function and recovery after intense bouts of exercise - particularly crucial in avoiding conditions like rhabdomyolysis due to electrolytes imbalances, as stipulated, here

Dehydration has the power to negatively influence athletes by leading to reduced blood volume, lower skin blood flow, decreased sweat rates and an increase in core temperature; all effects that compromise performance as well as increase health risks such as nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS); thus emphasizing its significance.

From these diverse accounts, one key insight emerges: individual hydration and electrolyte needs differ significantly, which necessitates listening to what their bodies tell them and making adjustments as required for optimal physical performance and overall well-being.

Athletes recognize this personalized approach which not only increases physical performance but has significantly enhanced well-being overall.

My Experience

As mentioned further up the text, I experienced first hand the negative effects of dehydration, and an electrolyte imbalance whilst running the 2023 Vienna marathon during a hot day in April.

I had been trainng for the event since October 2022, during what is the British autumn, winter and spring. Needless to say, the weather and temperatures are not very warm or pleasant.

Arriving in Vienna the day prior to the marathon was exceptionally warm to my standards, and I ensured that my 1.5 liter Camelbak was full of an electrolyte beverage, plus the many gels I was going to carry.

Even at the start line at 0900 I could feel sweat beading around my temples. The weather was relentless sunshine with little shade or wind. 

By the halfway point I had consumed all of my electrolyte fluids (a previous marathon in the UK saw me only use 1.5 liters for the full duration), and had to then stop to refill the bladder at a water point. 

This was all consumed before mile 20, and I was experience muscle cramps in my calves, something I hadn't even experienced in any of my training runs or previous marathons.

Clearly I couldn't replenish the electrolytes lost through the copius amount of sweat. I felt fatigued, drained and inefficient. I finished with a time of 4:13, around 10 minutes slower than my previous marathon.

Whilst looking back, it isn't a particularly big time difference, but the experience was much less enjoyable and mentally challenging.

As such, here are a couple of key points for anyone looking to do a marathon as a physical training instructor, sports nutritionist and recreational runner:

  • Check out the climate of your race/event - ensure you're acclimatised and take a hat if it is going to be sunny.
  • Take a sports beverage that includes electrolytes with you in either bottles or a bladder such as a Camelbak. Esnure that it is comfortable to carry.
  • If possible also take either extra sachets, tabs or capsules of pre-made electrolytes to replenish with if necessary while running.


Electrolytes provide athletes with numerous advantages. These benefits include enhanced endurance, reduced muscle cramping, and better hydration levels.

All of these factors aid athletes to perform at their maximum potential and emphasize the significance of electrolytes as part of sports nutrition and recovery strategies.

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