What Are Electrolytes?

Do you need more electrolytes? Learn what electrolytes do for you, which foods supply them, and how to be sure you’re getting enough.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #243

We throw the term “electrolyte” around a lot these days and most of us have a vague notion of what it means. But how much do you really know about electrolytes? I’ve gotten several questions on this topic lately so today’s show is a crash course on electrolytes: exactly what they are, what they do for you, how much you need, and where to get them..

What Are Electrolytes?

If you ask a chemistry professor to define “electrolyte,” they might say that an electrolyte is a compound which produces ions when dissolved in a solution such as water. These ions have either a positive or negative electrical charge, which is why we refer to these compounds as electro-lytes. If that all sounds like Greek to you, my colleague Lee Falin, host of the Ask Science podcast, has a couple of great episodes that explain more about ions in terms that everyone can understand!

See also: Atomic Bonds: The Ties that Bind and Basics of pH


In the world of nutrition, we use the word “electrolyte” more specifically to refer to minerals dissolved in the body’s fluids, creating electrically charged ions. The electrolytes that are the most important in nutrition are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.