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KETO ELECTROLYTES: THE IMPORTANCE OF ELECTROLYTES AND WHY YOU NEED THEM ON KETO

Lindsay Malone MS, RDN, CSO, LD
10 - 12 MIN.


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IN THIS ARTICLE
  • The Power of Electrolytes
  • The Keto Diet and Electrolyte Balance
  • Key Electrolytes on Keto: Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium
  • Supplemental Sources of Electrolytes
  • Fluids and Electrolytes: A Recipe for Success
  • How to Get Electrolytes on Keto
  • What Electrolytes Can I Eat on Keto?
  • How Do You Get Enough Electrolytes on a Keto Diet?
  • How Much Electrolytes Do You Need on Keto?
  • 5 Top Keto Electrolyte Drinks
  • 8 Top Keto Electrolyte Foods

Electrolytes on Keto


If you’ve watched a sporting event in the last 30 years, you’re probably most familiar with the term electrolytes from ads promoting sports drinks. But these nutrients do more than keep you hydrated after breaking a sweat. Electrolytes are essential to many of our bodies processes and are important to be aware of for any healthy lifestyle, including if you choose keto. 

Consider this article your primer on all things electrolytes. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What electrolytes are and what do they do
  • How the ketogenic diet impacts electrolyte balance
  • Key electrolytes on keto: where to find them and signs you might need more
  • Food and supplemental sources of electrolytes

The Power of Electrolytes

Electrolytes (or lytes for short) are minerals in the body that get their name from the electrical charge they carry. 

Within the body, electrolytes play many important roles, including:

  • Maintaining healthy fluid balance
  • Helping involuntary muscles run smoothly (this includes keeping your heart beating and digestive tract moving)
  • Carrying nerve impulses
  • Balancing the body’s pH level (also known as acid/base balance)
  • Moving nutrients into cells and taking waste out

You’ve likely heard of most of these minerals before and not realized they fall into the category of electrolytes: calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride and phosphate .For your body to be performing at its best, each of these electrolytes need to stay withina tightly controlled range. Concentrations that are too high or too low can result in you feeling sluggish, suffering from headaches and other more serious health problems. 

There are several factors that influence you body’s electrolyte balance including your diet, any medications you might be taking, your kidney function and any fluid losses you might be experiencing (ex. sweating during a workout, vomiting when you’re sick, diarrhea, etc.).

The Keto Diet and Electrolyte Balance

The keto diet causes major metabolic changes within the body. The shift from burning carbs to burning fat for energy is the hallmark of ketosis and the reason that many experience weight loss and boosts in energy and cognitive health. But that initial weight loss isn’t only fat – in fact, much of it is water due to changes in fluid balance. 

Fluctuations in fluid balance with the keto diet can be attributed to a few things:

As fluid leaves the body, the electrolytes sodium, potassium and magnesium are reduced as well. That is why these specific electrolytes are an important focus of a healthy ketogenic lifestyle. 

Key Electrolytes on Keto: Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium

Importance of Electrolytes

Sodium

Processed foods and restaurant foods contribute the largest proportion of sodium to a typical American diet. So, it’s not surprising that sodium intake is naturally reduced on a keto diet where most highly-processed foods are avoided and restaurant choices are limited. 

What Does It Do?

Sodium is essential for human health and is required for normal cell function, fluid balance and nerve impulse transmission. 

How Much is Recommended? 

For healthy individuals not on a low carb diet, normal sodium intake should be less than 2300 mg per day. On a keto diet, sodium recommendations increase to 3-5g daily

Signs You May Need More

Hyponatremia is a fancy word for low blood sodium and can be a very serious condition. Some signs of low sodium include:

  • Craving salt
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

Signs You May Need Less

Keto-Friendly Food Sources 

Table salt is a mixture of sodium and chloride. One teaspoon (roughly the size of a thumbnail) provides approximately 2300 mg. Other keto-friendly food sources of sodium include broth, unsweetened coconut water, low carb condiments like hot sauce and salad dressing, pickles, olives, salted snacks like nuts, seeds & kale chips, jerky (look for wild raised/caught and nitrate free), cheese and snacks with cheese.

Importance of Electrolytes, Foods to Eat With SodiumNutrient Information Sourced from the USDA Food Composition Database

Potassium

What Does It Do?

Potassium resides largely within the cell. Think of potassium as an effective bouncer at your favorite concert – its star role in good health is stewarding nutrients in and waste products out of the cell. But that’s not potassium’s only job, it also helps the heartbeat stay regular and balance the impact of too much sodium in the diet. 

How Much is Recommended?

Potassium needs vary based on age, sex and life stage. For example, pregnant and lactating women have different needs than women of their same age. Healthy adults need approximately 2600 mg (women) – 3400 mg (men) per day. Most people in the US do not get enough potassium, even when consuming potassium-rich foods and taking supplements that include potassium. 

Signs You May Need More

The fancy word for low potassium is hypokalemia, initial side effects are mild but can progress to more serious complications if not addressed.

  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue

Signs You May Need Less

In healthy adults with normal kidney function, excess dietary potassium is typically not an issue as the kidneys do a great job of filtering out excess.

Keto-Friendly Food Sources 

Many foods are great sources of potassium including non-starchy, low-carb vegetables, nuts, seeds and animal proteins like chicken, beef and fish.  

Importance of Electrolytes, Foods to Eat for Potassium

Nutrient Information Sourced from the USDA Food Composition Database

Magnesium

What Does It Do?

Magnesium is required for healthy nerve and muscle function, maintenance of the immune system, strong bones, stable blood sugar and blood pressure.

How Much is Recommended?

Magnesium needs vary based on age and life stage. Healthy adults need between 310 mg (females) – 420 mg (males).

Signs You May Need More

It is rare for healthy adults to be truly deficient in magnesium. Deficiency is more likely in those with malabsorption, type II diabetes and older adults. Symptoms of low magnesium are mild but get more severe with progressive deficiency and can be serious. 

  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Numbness & tingling

Signs You May Need Less

Too much magnesium from foods sources is unlikely in healthy individuals as the kidneys are able to filter out excess magnesium. From supplements, too much magnesium can cause digestive distress like cramping, gas and diarrhea. Extremely high supplemental doses can have serious consequences like irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure.

Keto-Friendly Food Sources

The best low carb food sources of magnesium are avocadoes, nuts, seeds, cacao powder and tofu.

Importance of Electrolytes, Foods to Eat for Magnesium

Nutrient Information Sourced from the USDA Food Composition Database

Supplemental Sources of Electrolytes

Electrolyte supplements are widely available and can be a useful tool in a well-planned ketogenic diet. They typically come in tablets or drops to add to water, include a variety of electrolyte minerals, and should contain minimal carbohydrates. 

If you have a hard time getting in enough sodium, potassium or magnesium through foods, adding an electrolyte supplement is a safe and effective way to get what you need. Be sure to read the package directions and follow them closely – it is possible to have too much of a good thing. 

Fluids and Electrolytes: A Recipe for Success

A well-designed ketogenic diet should include plenty of fluids to replace what you lose as your carbohydrate stores are depleted as well as plenty of  electrolytes in the form of foods or supplements. 

Fluids should include mostly caffeine-free, unsweetened beverages like water, coconut water, plant-based milks, broths and herbal tea. In general, two liters of fluid per day is a good starting point. Larger or highly active individuals may need more. If urine is dark, drink more – lighter urine is a sign of good hydration. 

Your electrolyte balance can be maintained by regularly including foods that are high in sodium, potassium and magnesium in your diet. You may even come up with some meals and snacks that incorporate foods rich in all three like a spinach (potassium, magnesium) salad with salmon (potassium), pumpkin seeds (magnesium) and topped with a vinaigrette dressing (sodium). 

If you’re concerned about your electrolyte balance, a supplement may be useful. Follow the package instructions closely and speak to your health care provider if you have any special medical considerations.

How to Get Electrolytes on Keto

There are many simple ways you can add electrolytes on a keto diet. If you are considering going keto or have been on keto for some time, you will be used to being particular about what you eat and drink. Electrolytes are just another factor to build in. The main points are:

Increase the Amount of Water You Drink

Drinking too little or too much water produces electrolyte imbalances. Electrolyte imbalances can produce dehydration. How much you should drink depends upon your body size, the current climate, and how active you are.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggest a daily fluid intake of around 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for a man and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for a woman. That's fluids coming both from water, beverages, and food. Food accounts for about 20% of this.

That is a good starting point, and you are far more likely to drink too little than too much. Those of us on a keto diet tend to be good at listening to our own bodies, and that’s what you need to do here. Remember that dark urine often means you need to up your fluid intake, so don’t be afraid to do a little analysis!

Add Salt to Your Diet

Salt is the easiest way to increase your sodium intake. Just 6 grams of salt contains around 2,400 milligrams of sodium. But have a care, too much sodium can cause its own problems, such as making you feel dehydrated in the short term and long term problems like raised blood pressure.  

Eat potassium-rich foods

Potassium is more of a problem than sodium, and, in general, Americans eat less than they should. Avocado is the number one food for potassium-containing 975 mg in every fruit, followed by raw spinach, chicken breast, tomatoes, broccoli, and asparagus. Make a point of eating a combination of these foods part of your keto diet.

Eat magnesium-rich foods

It’s not just what you eat but its quality that matters if you are to get sufficient magnesium in your diet. Modern farming methods tend to produce food that is lower in this electrolyte than previously. So think organic if you possibly can. The highest-rated foods for magnesium are almonds, spinach, peanut butter, plain yogurt, and salmon.

Take electrolyte supplements

Supplements are a super convenient way to top up your electrolyte levels. You will want to find sugar-free for your keto diet. Food is probably the best source of electrolytes, but in a fast-paced lifestyle eating fresh, quality produce is not always easy. Electrolyte supplements can be your friend.

What Electrolytes Can I Eat on Keto?

The big three are sodium, potassium, and magnesium:

  • Sodium is the most important. On a keto diet, you restrict your carbohydrate intake, which causes the body to excrete water and so a lot of sodium goes with it. Low levels can cause all sorts of problems. However, it is the easiest electrolyte to boost. 
  • Potassium is found in bananas, but they are a no-no on a keto diet. But that’s okay because potassium is found in greater quantities in foods like avocados, nuts, and dark chocolate.
  • Magnesium is another massively important electrolyte and needed by the body for over 250 reactions. Again, the dietary choice is the way to ensure your levels are kept up with such foods as kale, spinach, nuts, and seeds.

Another important electrolyte to pay attention to is calcium. Calcium is well known for building strong teeth and bones, and your bones can lose strength if you don’t eat enough of it. You can find it in hard cheese, salmon, and sardines, in addition to dark leafy greens and broccoli.

How Do You Get Enough Electrolytes on a Keto Diet?

The keto diet is revolutionary and quite a different way of eating to a traditional American diet. Very simply, by severely limiting carbs in our diet, we manage to enter ketosis where the body uses fat for energy. That’s our primary goal.

Achieving ketosis requires strict adherence to your keto diet and a carefully planned diet. You must ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs, all those vitamins and minerals vital for a healthy body.

Electrolytes are extremely important nutrients that we can’t do without. When planning your keto diet, always bear in mind the need for those electrolytes. Build-in those foods that contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium to maintain the correct levels.

How Much Electrolytes Do You Need on Keto?

Mostly, you need the same amount of electrolytes as someone on a normal healthy diet, or perhaps a little more. The normal recommended intake for sodium is less than 2300 mg a day, but if you are on a healthy keto diet, you need more like 3000-5000 mg.

As we have seen above, the amount of potassium you require varies depending on age and sex. 2600-3400 mg is the normal band, but on keto, you need to be looking at 3000-4000 mg to keep you healthy.

You need something like 310-420 mg of magnesium every day, again depending on age and sex. If you start getting muscle cramps, you are not getting enough.

On a normal diet, adults aged 19 to 64 require around 700 mg of calcium a day. If you are on a keto diet, you will need to increase this to around 1000 mg. You should be able to get all of this in your diet, though not by drinking milk, which carries too many carbs. 

5 Top Keto Electrolyte Drinks

Here are some of the best drinks for electrolytes to keep on hand when you are on a ketogenic diet:

  • Nooma Organic Electrolyte Sports Drink - A mix of coconut water and sea salt with added electrolytes, this energy drink ticks a lot of boxes. It’s organic, non-GMO, paleo-friendly, gluten-free, and vegan. And it’s just 30 calories with no added sugar. It comes in four great flavors.
  • Re: Play Hydration Recovery - This sugar-free offering not only hydrates but packs in four key electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, and has less than a gram of carbohydrate. There is a choice of flavors.
  • Ultima Replenisher - This option contains no less than six electrolytes and no sweeteners or artificial flavors. Along with potassium, magnesium, and calcium, you have phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and chloride plus a shot of vitamin C. With not a single carb in sight.
  • Pro:Play Electrolyte Hydration Drink - Another hydration drink that's perfect for helping meet those electrolytic needs on a keto diet. This drink contains sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium all in one great drink and no calories.
  • Zipfizz Healthy Energy Drink - With only 2 g of carbs per serving, his drink can fit right into your keto diet. It is crammed full of vitamins and minerals, including all four of the main electrolytes plus a host more. Not only that, but it comes in 1o different flavors.

8 Top Keto Electrolyte Foods

The best foods to keep in mind to ensure you get your fill of electrolytes on your ketogenic diet:

  • NutsPretty much all nuts contain electrolytes, but they are particularly high in potassium and magnesium. For instance, almonds have 208 mg of potassium and 77 mg of magnesium in every ounce (28g).
  • SeedsSeeds are another great source of potassium and magnesium, and some, particularly sesame, sunflower, and chia, are fantastic providers of calcium. Just 100g of sesame seeds contains 1000 mg of calcium.
  • Fatty fish Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, are rich in electrolytes and have the bonus of being an excellent source of protein and crammed full of omega 3s. A 170g (6-0z) fillet of salmon, for example, has 100 mg of sodium, 617 mg of potassium, and 46 mg of magnesium.
  • AvocadoAvocados are a supreme provider of potassium. One large one contains about 975 mg of potassium, along with 58 g of magnesium. They are also well known for being full of monounsaturated fats.
  • MeatAnother excellent source of protein that is good for sodium, potassium, and magnesium. A 170g (6-oz) beef steak has 94 mg of sodium, 581 mg of potassium, and 39 mg of magnesium.
  • Kale and broccoli These two are vegetable superfoods. A cup of broccoli contains 62 mg of calcium, and 100 g of kale has 254 mg. Broccoli also helps prevent cancer and lowers cholesterol, while kale is high in fiber and vitamins B and C, all good stuff.

These two are vegetable superfoods. A cup of broccoli contains 62 mg of calcium and 100 g of kale has 254 mg. Broccoli also helps prevent cancer and lowers cholesterol, while kale is high in fiber and vitamins B and C, all good stuff.

  • Cacao powder and dark chocolateResearch has shown that eating dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) has many health benefits. You can’t eat large quantities on a keto diet because of the carbs. Still, a couple of squares could help you benefit from its potassium and magnesium content, along with antioxidants and other minerals.
  • Dairy products Dairy is not always the keto enemy it is sometimes thought to be. Hard cheeses like parmesan and cheddar keep the carbohydrates down but provide that essential fat along with significant amounts of sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

 

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Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, CSO, LD
Lindsay Malone is a Functional and Integrative Medicine dietitian empowering individuals to take charge of their health with evidenced-based nutrition information.

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