Chances are, you've heard of electrolytes—but you might not know what they really are, why you need them, or how to get them. Dance Spirit asked Emily Cook Harrison, a registered dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta, GA, for a crash course on this key performance component.
What They Are
"Electrolytes are essentially minerals—sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium," Harrison explains. They're found in your blood and cells, and are essential for a laundry list of functions. But their primary role is maintaining blood volume, or the amount of fluid that your body, muscles, and blood have at any given time.
Why Dancers Need Them
Electrolytes regulate muscle hydration, and well-hydrated muscles are crucial for dancers. When you start sweating after a particularly intense combo, you're losing lots of the key electrolyte sodium by way of your sweat—and that can cause a myriad of symptoms. "If you're cramping up after a long rehearsal, it's likely because your muscles are dehydrated," Harrison warns.
How to Get Them
You might think grabbing a Gatorade or Powerade is the fastest way to replenish electrolytes, and that's not wrong. Those types of drinks are specially formulated with the right ration of electrolytes. But Harrison warns against their processed ingredients and high levels of sugar. Instead, she recommends choosing foods that are rich in the four key minerals—sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. "A smoothie with banana, almond milk, leafy greens, and a sprinkle of salt checks off all the boxes," Harrison says. You can also keep almonds, chia seeds, carrots, celery sticks, or an orange handy for some quick snacking between rehearsals and sips of water.
A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "They're Electro-fying!"