This post was born when my old friend M. asked for some mineral replenishment tips. She is a Bikram yogini and sweats buckets daily—I know because I practice this form of “hot yoga” as well. I instantly remembered a time when I was practicing five times a week and feeling incredibly exhausted—like when I wasn’t practicing, I was either sleeping or laying in bed and staring at the ceiling. Thinking back, this was most likely due to pretty extreme mineral loss, and had I known better, I could have created a much more health-supportive yoga experience for myself. So, here is my take on minerals, mineral loss and replenishment. Exercise wisely!
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So, electrolytes recently emerged as one of those really buzzy things in the health world. We have all doubtless had some form of electrolyte-enhanced water or oddly neon-hued powder, or at least know of it. But hiding behind this techy-sounding word is one of the simplest—and most essential—components of nutrition: minerals.
Electrolytes are minerals—sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, etc. —that conduct electricity in our bodies to allow for the proper functioning of the neurological and musculoskeletal systems, as well as a host of other functions. To really drive the point of their importance, look at them as the foundation nutrient in your body, without which vitamins, macronutrients and phyto-chemicals (all the good stuff you work so hard to get from your food) are rendered useless. Minerals are the salts of our bodies, and they have a primordial quality to them. Residing in our bones, they are the inorganic materials that remain when the living tissue is burned. (Kind of awesome, no?)
Minerals exist in an incredibly complex network of relationship with one another—some working in combination, others competing for absorption—and the body in its intelligence operates certain mechanisms that very carefully control the concentrations of each mineral in the organism at any given time. Here, ratios are everything. Too much phosphorus without adequate amounts of calcium, for instance, will cause the body to leech the deficit from the bones, eventually causing bone loss. This is why mineral supplements are kind of suspicious: intake of the inappropriate ratio can cause imbalance in the entire body, not to mention that an overdose of certain minerals can cause toxicity.
So how do we get minerals, and how do we lose them?
The electrolyte buzz is based on the fact that we lose minerals through losing fluids. So sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, and excess urination can all deplete our mineral stores. You can see why chicken soup, extremely rich in minerals, is an age-old cure for illness (fever, sweating, diarrhea, ya know?) Hard sweaty exercise and the resulting possible over-consumption of water can also water down the minerals in our body so that not only are we sweating them out, we are then peeing them out as well.
But if by chance you are like me and find it unappealing to add pink powder to your water, or suck out some kind of enigmatic gel from a little packet after exercise, here are some tips for keeping your mineral balance optimal as well as replenishing what you lose after a good hard workout:
On a daily basis:
~Eat mineral-rich foods. Animal foods are a very efficient source of minerals, especially if you are courageous enough to boil bones for a good stock (see recipe at the end of this post) or cook up some delicious organ meats. Small fish such as sardines and anchovies, in which the bones are soft enough to eat, are great because the mercury content in these fish is relatively low.
~Sea vegetables such as nori (what your sushi comes wrapped in), kombu, dulse, arame, wakame, and hijiki are an invaluable source of minerals and can be incorporated into the diet once or twice a week for the optimal mineral boost.
~Vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, are a good source provided they are grown in organic, mineral-rich soil.
~Quality, non-iodized sea salt used in cooking provides a wonderful source of minerals.
An extra boost during workouts:
~Make your very own electrolyte water just as effective as the store-bought version by adding a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon to your bottle. It will take a few sips to get used to the taste, but I promise it isn’t disgusting and you can actually feel your body absorb this water so much more efficiently than pure water.
~Eat a mineral-rich snack soon after working out, as mineral uptake is most efficient in the fifteen minutes post-workout. Pop a can of sardines, gnaw on a chicken bone, or chew on a few sheets of nori to normalize.
As with everything, the rule is to not go overboard in any one extreme. Having no exercise is obviously detrimental but too much can be just as unbalancing. Dehydration is a mass problem but drinking too much can dilute the intricate systems within our bodies. So—listen to your body before your mind!
Basic chicken Stock* (Makes 2 quarts)
2 quarts cold water
6-8 sprigs of thyme
4 medium bay leaves
1 tbsp peppercorns
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
4 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 large ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and lightly smashed
Carcass of 2 chickens (break it up to take less space in the pot)
Combine everything in a stock pot or any large pot, add water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat uncovered. Lower flame and gently simmer 1 hour. Take off the heat and let sit 30 minute. Strain and cool. Keeps in the fridge up to 1 week, in the freezer up to 1 month.
*Recipe courtesy my dad! Rockstar chef Serge Slivinsky.