If you work out vigorously, you'll probably experience some soreness in the form of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. If there were a magic mineral bullet you could take to prevent post-exercise soreness, it would be sweet, but it just doesn't work that way. However, you do deplete essential minerals during hard workouts, especially if you sweat profusely. Replenish or replace them quickly to ward off more severe soreness. In some cases, such mineral depletion can cause potentially severe health consequences, so be sure to refuel as necessary.
Electrolytes are minerals, including sodium, magnesium, potassium and bicarbonate, that are necessary for the normal function of cells and organs. If you happen to be a person who sweats more than most -- the term for this is salty sweaters, a phrase that has nothing to do with attire -- a larger amount of electrolytes will be lost during exercise. Losing lots of electrolytes can cause muscle cramps, spasms, weakness and paralysis. As a result, you'll experience more soreness if you don't adequately and promptly replace electrolytes. More seriously, severe electrolyte loss can lead to nausea, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and kidney damage.
You have options in terms of replacing electrolytes. Ingest sports drinks, which taste salty because they are formulated with sodium and other electrolytes, or salty snacks before exercise if you expect to exercise long and hard, especially in very hot and humid weather. If you plan to exercise from 60 to 90 minutes or more, drinking a sports beverage during exercise replaces both carbs and electrolytes. After such exercise, you'll need a sports drink or recovery foods such as pretzels, nuts and crackers to replace electrolytes and diminish the amount of soreness you'll experience later.
A surprising post-exercise drink is the toast of the fitness world -- chocolate milk. Not only does it replace certain electrolyte minerals, such as sodium and potassium, but it also refuels you with carbs, proteins and vitamins as well. Research on competitive cyclists in 2011 at the University of Texas at Austin, found that chocolate milk was better than a sports drink in reducing DOMS and enhancing recovery. In fact, the cyclists who drank chocolate milk after workouts wound up with more muscle, less fat and improved performance. Refuel after a workout within 30 minutes to derive the most recovery benefits and lessen soreness. If you're an endurance athlete, down a sports drink before and during your workout and switch to chocolate milk afterward.
Don't sweat the small stuff, especially if you don't sweat much. As the ACE website explains, if you work out for 20 to 60 minutes, you probably won't need anything more than water to recover. Drinking plenty of water a couple of hours prior to exercise and rehydrating with water after exercise should do the trick -- a normal diet replaces the relatively small amount of electrolytes you sweat out. However, if you exercise for over an hour or sweat profusely during exercise, seek out mineral replacement. If you are an endurance athlete or training or a marathon and working out more than three hours at a time, use specially-formulated sports drinks that contain extra electrolytes.
- MedicineNet.com: Electrolytes
- Cycling Performance Tips: Exercise Induced Muscle Pain, Soreness, and Cramps
- American Council on Exercise: Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options
- University of Texas at Austin: Chocolate Milk Gives Athletes Leg-Up After Exercise, Says University of Texas at Austin Study
- Hiland Dairy Foods: Chocolate Milk
- Handout/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images