Electrolytes are vital for the proper functioning of your body, which is why you need to keep them within their normal levels. Low or high electrolyte levels result in problems, ranging from headaches to muscle cramps to convulsions[*].
When you’re transitioning to a keto diet, you can get low on electrolytes due to carb restriction leading to lower insulin levels. People who are keto-adapted may also experience electrolyte losses as a result of excessive sweating (if they lead a very active lifestyle) and are not getting enough electrolytes in their diet.
Read this article to find out more about electrolytes on keto and their benefits, how to restore electrolytes and avoid imbalances, and some important FAQs.
Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge. In the human body, these electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate[*].
The most common electrolyte imbalance is hyponatremia or low sodium levels and is the reason why people during their first week of keto get muscle cramps — one of the symptoms of keto flu.
Therefore, meeting them in their right amounts will support optimal health and wellness whether or not you’re on a low-carb diet.
Some of the side effects of ketosis may be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. By replenishing them, your performance improves in the following ways:
1. Supports Physical Activity and Athletic Performance
When this balance is off, you’re more prone to muscle cramps, which negatively affect your performance at the gym.
A 2018 review showed that functional beverages or sports drinks containing electrolytes can compensate for electrolyte losses through sweating (also known as involuntary dehydration) during physical activity[*].
2. Reduces Keto Flu Symptoms
The keto flu is a group of symptoms that happen within the first few weeks of beginning a keto diet. Symptoms can be mild or severe and include headaches, fatigue, brain fog, increased cravings, muscle cramping, thirst, diarrhea, and constipation[*].
When your body switches its energy source from carbohydrates to fat, it burns through its glycogen stores (stored carbs in your liver and muscles). Glycogen is also stored with water molecules. As a result of glycogen depletion, a loss of water occurs via your urine, and this also includes electrolytes[*].
Make sure you’re avoiding imbalances to combat the keto flu by taking a keto-friendly daily electrolyte supplement and other strategies like eating whole foods, salting your food, and prioritizing sleep.
3. Maintains Cardiovascular Health
Electrolytes play a crucial role in heart function[*]. Potassium, for instance, keeps your heart beating by controlling electrical signals. This is why low or high potassium levels result in an irregular heartbeat (heart arrhythmia).
According to a recent US national survey, many Americans are consuming more calories than they need, yet are lacking in micronutrients. When it comes to potassium, most have intakes lower than the recommended amounts for potassium[*].
Be aware that certain things may cause potassium levels to drop, such as diarrhea, too much alcohol, water pills or diuretics, and insulin[*].
4. Promotes Deeper Sleep
Another major advantage of ensuring enough electrolytes on keto is quality sleep. A good night’s sleep helps to boost your productivity — not to mention, your ability to lose more weight and keep it off while on the keto diet.
Among the electrolytes, magnesium is an important one. In a double-blind randomized clinical trial, subjects who took 500 milligrams of magnesium daily for 8 weeks achieved improvements in their sleep time, sleep efficiency, and melatonin (a sleep hormone) levels[*].
5. Improves Brain Functioning
Changes in electrolyte levels affect your tissues, especially your brain.
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalances in the brain vary, which include confusion, a loss of alertness, poor judgment, and seizures[*]. Disturbances in sodium, magnesium, phosphate, and calcium may lead to these consequences.
Keeping your brain healthy can be as simple as meeting your electrolyte needs. One way to do this is by checking your hydration status and drinking enough water (or electrolyte-infused water) throughout the day.
An electrolyte imbalance is when you have either increased or decreased levels of electrolytes in your blood. Various factors trigger electrolyte imbalances, more specifically low electrolytes on keto, such as:
1. Fluid Loss (Keto Flu and Exercise)
The keto diet can result in a diuretic-like response due to ketones, resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate. This is why people who are new to the keto diet report losing a lot of weight initially — a.k.a. water weight loss.
Be sure to watch out for signs and symptoms of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, dry mouth, excessive thirst, and headache.
A good practice is to simply drink whenever you feel thirsty. If you’re planning a long workout session, especially when you’re heading outside, carry a water bottle with you.
2. Not Eating a Wide Variety of Whole Foods
Relying on processed foods while on keto may make low-carb eating more convenient; however, this can result in some micronutrient deficiencies.
Any kind of food preparation — and food processing to a greater extent, through high levels of heat and light exposure — results in a loss of micronutrients[*]. On the other hand, electrolytes are abundant in natural foods like meat, poultry, seafood, avocados, broccoli, nuts, and seeds.
This is why, at Perfect Keto, we strongly encourage everyone to follow a clean keto diet. It’s the best approach to follow throughout your journey, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned ketogenic dieter.
3. Taking Certain Medications While on Keto
Because you can experience a significant loss of water shortly after starting the keto diet, check for any medications that could cause your electrolytes to drop further.
Medications that mess with your electrolyte levels include Amphotericin B, corticosteroids, and insulin[*][*][*]. Better yet, speak with your doctor if you’re not sure how your current medications may affect your electrolyte status.
- Sodium: 135 to 145 mmol/L
- Potassium: 3.6 to 5.5 mmol/L
- Magnesium: 1.46 to 2.68 mg/dl
- Chloride: 96 to 106 mEq/L
- Calcium: 8.8 to 10.7 mg/dl
- Phosphate: 3.4 to 4.5 mg/dl
- Bicarbonate: 23 to 30 mmol/L
The good news is that it’s not difficult to prevent an electrolyte imbalance while on a low-carb plan. A common misconception is that keto can lead to deficiencies, but that’s unlikely to happen if you’re doing it right. Here are a few strategies that will help.
1. Eat Whole Foods That Are High in Electrolytes
Nothing beats a keto diet that’s rich in nutrient-dense foods. You might need to do a bit of research to create a list of keto foods that are known to replenish electrolytes, especially if you’re keen on nutrition.
Popular sources of electrolytes include coconut water, avocados, beef, chicken meat, eggs, spinach, clams, salmon, lettuce, tomatoes, yogurt, and almonds. You can make things even more interesting by trying delicious keto recipes using electrolyte-containing ingredients.
2. Obtain Electrolytes With Keto-Friendly Electrolyte Supplements
The most convenient way to get electrolytes no matter the time and place is to consume an electrolyte drink. This is also helpful for supporting your workout performance and recovery post-workout.
While there are plenty of electrolyte drinks out there to choose from, stick to sugar-free and keto-friendly options. Perfect Keto has an electrolyte powder that contains sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and vitamin D (to boost magnesium absorption).
3. Pay Attention to Your Thirst
Thirst is a sign of mild dehydration. When you’re thirsty, you’re also likely to feel tired and dizzy. It’s important to address thirst right away by drinking water or an electrolyte drink.
Moreover, keep in mind that your sense of thirst diminishes as you age[*]. For this reason, older people (particularly seniors) should drink more. Hydration or water tracker apps can help to remind you to drink.
4. Slowly Transition Into the Keto Diet
Know that it’s okay to start the keto diet slowly. Doing this may prevent keto flu symptoms (and electrolyte imbalances) while also building sustainable habits.
Ease into the diet by doing low-carb, which entails eating up to 150 grams of carbs per day, for a week before going full keto. Drastically reducing your carb intake to 50 grams or less, especially if you’re coming from a Standard American Diet (SAD) can make you feel overwhelmed in the beginning.
Some people do it cold turkey, but this doesn’t have to be your approach.
5. If You’re Taking Medications, Talk to Your Doctor Before Starting Keto
As mentioned earlier in this article, certain medications may affect your electrolyte status.
Since restricting carbs can lead to a reduction of electrolytes, notify your doctor about your plan to do the keto diet if you’re currently under any medication. This includes antibiotics, corticosteroids, and insulin.
In addition, it’s imperative to work with a doctor who has the knowledge and experience with assisting patients with a low-carb or keto lifestyle.
Find more answers to the most common questions on electrolytes on keto:
How do I know if my electrolytes are low?
Watch out for common signs and symptoms of low electrolytes, which include muscle weakness, cramps, headache, dizziness, confusion, and an irregular heart rate. You may also want to consider an electrolyte panel test (which involves drawing blood) to check the levels of minerals in your body.
Do I need an electrolyte supplement?
Electrolyte supplements are necessary if you’re transitioning to a very low-carb diet, exercising frequently, experiencing an illness, or simply rehydrating.
Can too many electrolytes cause weight gain?
An excess in your electrolytes causes fluid shifts in your body. This may lead to water weight gain and not fat.
Is it OK to drink electrolytes every day?
It’s not necessary to drink electrolytes all the time unless you suspect dehydration or feel the need to do so (for example, if you’re transitioning into nutritional ketosis). Remember that it’s also possible to take too many electrolytes and develop problems as a result.
Electrolyte imbalances while on keto are often linked to the keto flu, but they can also happen due to an inadequate electrolyte intake (such as a keto diet high in processed foods) and unreplaced electrolyte losses from intense and long workouts — or a combination of these things.
Maintaining their optimal balance allows your body to thrive and work well. Simple strategies like eating more whole foods, supplementing with electrolytes, and responding immediately to thirst will mitigate losses and prevent them from happening in the first place.
If you’re trying to optimize your electrolytes on keto, consider our Daily Electrolytes Powder. Our flavors include Pink Lemonade, Black Cherry, Lemon Lime, and Watermelon.