How sodium, electrolytes and BCAAs affect physical and mental performance
The human body is made up of around 60 per cent water and the correct balance is critical to physical and mental function.
Maintaining appropriate hydration levels and ensuring healthy bodily function is directly linked with sodium (better known as salt) while the correct balance of other electrolytes and branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are also essential for our physical and mental performance.
While salt in excess is unhealthy, sodium is required by our bodies to help regulate water around cells and is directly linked with healthy nerve and muscle function.
Sodium is mostly lost when we sweat and go to the toilet and the body requires this to be replaced. If salt levels in the blood become too low, confusion, nausea, headaches and the potentially fatal outcome of cerebral oedema can occur in a condition known as hyponatremia.
Drinking excessive amounts of water (or other low-sodium beverages such as soft drinks) during and after physical activity can increase the dangers, and has caused many deaths among otherwise healthy Aussies hiking the Kokoda trail.
Regular food consumption and a healthy diet plays an important role in sodium and electrolyte replenishment, however a loss of appetite is common while undertaking physical activity especially when performed in the heat – in which case an electrolyte drink may be a good solution.
Conversely, Hypernatremia – an excess of salt in the body – is also dangerous. It often corresponds with dehydration and may be caused by extreme fluid losses due to sweating and diarrhoea or by the extreme consumption of salty foods.
The body generally responds to hypernatremia with a strong thirst sensation to correct the imbalance.
While sodium is the most important electrolyte, others such as potassium, calcium and magnesium also play a vital role in cellular communication, organ function and general health.
These electrolytes are also lost in sweat and their replacement may provide increased cell function, muscle strength and overall performance, as well as faster recovery times, especially among those whose dietary intake is inadequate.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Described as the “building blocks of life” BCAAs are classified as essential amino acids because the body cannot manufacture them and they must be ingested in food.
While a balanced diet should ensure the body has or can produce the required amino acids for most individuals, healthy eating is not always achieved.
Supplement Consumption Guidelines
While drinking specifically prepared electrolyte solutions with added BCAAs can help maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes and essential amino acids and thus lead to improved physical and mental abilities, just how much of these drinks one should consume varies due to differing individual diets, sweat rates and sweat-sodium composition.
It is recommended a tailored approach be implemented and refined to match individual requirements.