Since insulin levels remain lower in a keto diet due to the low consumption of carbohydrates, it is common for the kidneys to excrete electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and more. This article explores how you can balance your electrolytes while maintaining a keto diet.
Why Do Electrolytes Matter?
Electrolytes are essential minerals that support the body’s electrical activity 1—keeping your electrolytes balanced impacts many systems in the body, including cognitive function, physical activity, and the autonomic nervous system.
Another major pillar of electrolyte consumption is hydration. Electrolytes are responsible for fluid balance distribution in the body, so instead of associating hydration with water, we should focus more on electrolytes 2. Hydration plays a key role in many functions, including regulating body temperature, preventing infections, keeping joints lubricated, delivering nutrients to cells, and keeping organs functioning properly 3.
The electrolytes your body needs include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and bicarbonate. Since we do not make electrolytes endogenously, we get all these minerals through diet.
Unbalanced Electrolytes on the Ketogenic Diet
Although electrolyte imbalances are common for many people, the chances of developing one while on a ketogenic diet are even higher. Some studies have shown that the “keto flu” is often associated with low electrolytes 4.
There are a couple of reasons why electrolytes tend to be depleted on a ketogenic diet.
1. Depleting Sodium and Potassium
The dominant reason for a ketogenic diet can lead to an electrolyte imbalance is that since insulin levels remain low, a higher amount of potassium and sodium is depleted through urine 5. Insulin helps cells absorb glucose, making kidneys hold on to sodium 6. These minerals are also depleted through sweat, so our intake increases dramatically with vigorous exercise.
2. Depleting Glycogen Stores
Another reason you can lose electrolytes and become dehydrated more easily on a ketogenic diet is that glycogen stored in the liver and muscles contain three to four parts of water. As the stored glucose depletes and isn’t replaced by consuming many or any carbs, you also lose a significant amount of stored water 8.
3. Wholefoods and Electrolytes
Individuals on a ketogenic diet tend to avoid packaged foods more than the average person since many processed foods aren’t keto. This is even more applicable to those on a whole-food-based keto diet.
Whole Foods are typically lower in various minerals. Sodium is relatively low in whole foods. This means your sodium intake relies heavily on salting your food. Many people air on the lower side of salting, whether you realize it or not.
Getting enough minerals is hard whether or not you’re on a keto diet, but potassium is another common problem with keto, especially since it tends to be found in foods with higher-carb content 9. Foods like coconut water, fruits, and root vegetables are high in potassium but too high for most people to consume and stay in ketosis.
How to Balance Your Electrolytes
Balancing your electrolytes starts by consuming more than you excrete. Since people on a ketogenic diet tend to lose more sodium and potassium in their urine, it’s vital to ensure you actively consume electrolytes. This is even more important if you are very active since we also lose them in sweat.
Replenishing electrolytes, however, is often not enough because our bodies need electrolytes in a specific ratio to feel optimal 10. What this looks like in applications in terms of supplementation for the average person who exercises regularly is:
- 5 grams of sodium per day 11
- 1 gram of potassium (or a 5:1 ratio with sodium) 12
- 200-300 mg of magnesium 13
Although calcium is an important mineral, studies suggest that the average American gets ample amounts through diet alone. However, overdoing it with calcium has also been linked with various ailments, including soft tissue calcification in the arteries, among other places 14.
Although food is undoubtedly the most common way we attempt to get our dietary nutrients, the reality is that most food is grown in minerally depleted soil. Therefore, one way to increase your electrolyte intake naturally is to buy regeneratively-grown food that uses principles of soil-nutrient density.
2. Sole Water
Sole water is a great way to increase your mineral intake. Sole water (pronounced sol-ay) is saturated pink rock salt water that can be taken as a shot or diluted in a beverage to increase its mineral content.
To make Sole water, simply fill a glass jar a quarter of the way with pink Himalayan salt. Then top off the jar with water, seal it with a lid, shake it, and let it sit for 12–24 hours. If all of the salt dissolves after you let it sit, add small amounts of salt until it no longer dissolves.
3. Bone Broth
Bone broth is a fantastic way to up your minerals since the broth becomes rich in all the minerals stored in the animal’s bones. Bone broth is also rich in other health-boosting ingredients like gelatin and collagen. You can use broth as a base for soups, stews, and even smoothies to increase the nutrient density of everyday meals.
As the popularity of keto rises, more and more products are making their way to market to help fill in the gaps. Exogenous ketones are powerful regulators of longevity and directly support both brain and muscle metabolic activities. Extracellular Ketones provide stabile ketones, easily processed in the body into free β-hydroxybutyrate (βOHB) and the free elemental calcium, magnesium and sodium salts so beneficial to cellular function. For people adapting to and maintaining ketogenic diet, supplementing with Extracellular Ketones can help gain and maintain smooth ketogenic benefits. Science reports that ketones are a superior form of cellular energy and support the conversion and/or maintenance of fat-burning cellular metabolic activities.
Balancing your electrolytes is especially important while on a ketogenic diet since many aspects of this low-carb lifestyle deplete these essential minerals. Sodium, magnesium, and potassium are especially important to supplement since getting them from low-carb foods is particularly hard.
The best way to ensure you get enough electrolytes other than your regular diet would be to regularly consume sole water, bone broth, and a high-quality supplement like Keto Cana by Keto Sports.
1 Harvey, Cliff J D C et al. “The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review.” PeerJ vol. 6 e4488. 16 Mar. 2018, doi:10.7717/peerj.4488
2 Roumelioti, Maria-Eleni et al. “Fluid balance concepts in medicine: Principles and practice.” World journal of nephrology vol. 7,1 (2018): 1-28. doi:10.5527/wjn.v7.i1.1
3 “The Importance of Hydration.” News, 22 June 2018, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/.
4 Harvey, Cliff J D C et al. “The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review.” PeerJ vol. 6 e4488. 16 Mar. 2018, doi:10.7717/peerj.4488
5 Harvey, Cliff J D C et al. “The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review.” PeerJ vol. 6 e4488. 16 Mar. 2018, doi:10.7717/peerj.4488
6 Tiwari S, Riazi S, Ecelbarger CA. Insulin's impact on renal sodium transport and blood pressure in health, obesity, and diabetes. 2007 October 1 - https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajprenal.00149.2007?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed
7 Shirreffs, Susan M, and Michael N Sawka. “Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery.” Journal of sports sciences vol. 29 Suppl 1 (2011): S39-46. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.614269
8 Anekwe CV, Chandrasekaran P, Stanford FC. Ketogenic Diet-induced Elevated Cholesterol, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Potential Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. 2020 January 8 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7008768/
9 “Potassium.” The Nutrition Source, 19 Nov. 2021, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/.
10 National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Water and Electrolytes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234935/
11 O'Donnell, Martin J et al. “Urinary sodium and potassium excretion and risk of cardiovascular events.” JAMA vol. 306,20 (2011): 2229-38. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1729
12 Weaver, Connie M et al. “What Is the Evidence Base for a Potassium Requirement?.” Nutrition today vol. 53,5 (2018): 184-195. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000298
13 DiNicolantonio, James J et al. “Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis.” Open heart vol. 5,1 e000668. 13 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
14 Reid, Ian R et al. “Calcium and Cardiovascular Disease.” Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea) vol. 32,3 (2017): 339-349. doi:10.3803/EnM.2017.32.3.339