Why are Electrolytes Important on Keto?

Whether you are new to keto or a long time follower of the diet, you probably have at least heard about the importance of electrolytes while on the diet.  That is because replenishing electrolytes is the most important factor for combatting keto flu symptoms, optimizing your ketogenic diet, and ensuring that your body is functioning at maximum capacity.

In this article, we will cover what electrolytes are, why you need to know about them on a ketogenic diet, and how to make sure you are optimizing your electrolyte intake!

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals primarily found in our cells (intracellular) and in our organs and tissues with a small percentage found circulating in our blood. Electrolytes work together to help regulate fluid balance and play a key role in many bodily processes, including:

  • Muscle contractions

  • Heartbeat regulation

  • Body temperature control

  • Bladder control

  • Energy production

  • Neurological functions

Without electrolytes, you wouldn’t exist. If you want your body to be operating at full capacity, you must ensure that you have enough electrolytes.   Being deficient in electrolytes can lead to numerous side effects including:

  • Irregular heart beat

  • Feeling shaky, dizzy or weak

  • Mental and physical fatigue

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Brain fog

  • Impaired sleep

  • Mood disorders

  • Leg or other muscles cramps

  • Constipation and bloating

  • Poor athletic performance

You may notice that many of the above symptoms are common symptoms of keto-flu or the symptoms that can occur when you first start a ketogenic diet.  That is because electrolyte deficiency is one of the primary causes of keto-flu and is the reason why electrolytes are so important on keto!

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Why are electrolytes important on keto?

To understand why you need electrolytes on a ketogenic diet, we must get a basic understanding of a few processes in the body.  When you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down to glucose which causes an increase in blood glucose (also known as blood sugar.) When blood sugar increases, your pancreas responds by producing insulin to communicate with the cells in your body to open their doors for glucose to come in and be used for energy.

However, when we do not eat carbohydrates, like on a keto diet, our blood sugar lowers, and our pancreas stops releasing insulin. When insulin levels lower, our kidneys excrete more water and electrolytes. This is the reason why weight loss is so rapid when starting a ketogenic diet, but it also makes us very prone to dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies.

This is why we experience the majority of those pesky keto-flu symptoms.  Replenishing electrolytes is extremely important for new keto dieters to reduce keto-flu side effects.  However, electrolytes are also important for any ketogenic dieter, to ensure feeling good and optimal mental and physical performance.

Electrolytes on Keto

While there are many electrolyes, a particular subset of electrolytes seems to require an emphasis on a keto diet.  

  • Sodium

  • Potassium

  • Magnesium

  • Calcium

  • Phosphorus

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Sodium

Sodium plays a big role in water retention, making it one of the main regulators of fluid balance and hydration status. Sodium also plays a critical role in many bodily functions, which is why being deficient can lead to so many side effects.

We have been misinformed about sodium. It is not harmful. Healthy people can regulate their sodium balance, meaning they do not have to worry about over-consuming sodium, especially since under-consuming sodium is a much more common problem

Sodium deficiency can result in nausea, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, muscle weakness, altered mood, impaired exercise performance, and muscle cramps/spasms.

Potassium

Potassium is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure, regulating heart rate, and ensuring proper fluid balance in the body. As with sodium, we need potassium for nerve and muscle function.

Potassium consumed in very high amounts can be lethal, but this is nearly impossible to achieve through food or supplementation.  Especially since healthy kidneys are great regulators of potassium levels and will rapidly excrete excess potassium to help prevent toxicity.

Potassium deficiency can lead to increased blood pressure, kidney stone risk, constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness/impaired muscle function, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, altered sodium balance, irregular heartbeat, impaired exercise performance and impaired recovery.

Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and plays a big role in many functions beyond just bone health. It is required for vascular contraction and vasodilation, heart and muscle function, nerve transmission, hormonal production, blood clotting and much more.

Serum calcium is tightly regulated and does not fluctuate as much with changes in dietary intakes. However, the body does use bone as a calcium reservoir when calcium levels are low which is why you should consider supplementing, especially on keto.

Calcium deficiency is often asymptomatic, unless severe. Severe deficiencies can result in much worse such as mood disorders and weak bones.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral, and chances are you are not getting enough of it. In fact, 57% of the population is not meeting the US RDA for magnesium. Why is this important? Over 300 important bodily functions depend on magnesium, one the of the most important being energy production. Magnesium also plays a big role in mitochondrial health, which is a huge predictor of overall health status.

Magnesium also plays a role in nerve and muscular function, heart rate, the immune system, and many other processes. Magnesium deficiency is commonly associated with muscle cramps and weakness, impaired sleep, weak bones, mood disorders, altered blood pressure, and even irregular heart rate.

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Phosphorus

Phosphorus is another essential mineral, required by every cell in the body to carry out proper functions. Phosphorus plays a critical role in maintaining the structural integrity of the cell membranes. Phosphorus also plays a role in bone mineralization, energy production, cell signaling, and maintaining acid/base balance. Eighty-five percent of the body’s phosphorus is found in bones and teeth.

How do I manage electrolytes on keto?

Electrolytes can be replenished through whole food or supplements.  Below is a breakdown of how to replenish each electrolyte through whole foods.

Sodium

  • Redmond Real Salt (you want to choose a salt that contains additional added minerals)

  • Bone broth

Potassium

  • Salmon

  • Dry roasted mixed nuts

  • Avocados

  • Leafy greens

  • Mushrooms

Calcium

  • Raw dairy

  • Leafy greens

  • Broccoli

  • Fish

  • Almond or Coconut Milk

Magnesium

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Dry roasted mixed nutsuts

Phosphorus

  • Red Meat

  • Fish

  • Dry roasted nuts/seeds

  • Leafy green veggies

What makes replenishing electrolytes challenging is that electrolyte demands are different for everyone and can depend on many lifestyle factors, such as the foods you eat and your activity level. Certain individuals may be able to replenish electrolytes adequately through diet alone, while others may require the support of additional supplementation. One of the best ways to determine your electrolyte needs is to listen to your body for the signs of electrolyte deficiency we mentioned earlier.

Electrolytes work together meaning that the intake of one impacts the aborption of another. This is another reason to consider electrolyte supplements that contain all of the electrolytes you need!

How should I supplement with electrolytes?

Electrolyte supplements come in capsule or powder form.  Capsules are beneficial because they make it a lot easier to adjust your serving based on your body’s demands.  However, electrolyte packets are great because they have to be added to water which is great since staying hydrated is also needed on keto.

While treating electrolyte replenishment as a whole system is beneficial, you may find that your body requires more of a specific electrolyte.  For example, some people struggling with sleep on keto may require more magnesium and are just fine on the other electrolytes. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to add extra supplementation of individual electrolytes.

Ketologist Electroylte Recommendations

Conveniently, you do not have to worry about consuming too many electrolytes since healthy kidneys can regulate electrolyte balance and excrete any excess! Thus, my recommendation is to be on the safe side and go overboard on electrolytes. Use the whole foods above in conjunction with supplements. Below are my recommended electrolyte supplements.

  • Capsules: Perfect Keto

  • Powders: Element Labs (LMNT)


Christopher Irvin