When elevated insulin levels begin to decline in the initial weeks of the program, your kidneys will (temporarily) produce more urine, increasing your risk of dehydration and loss of electrolytes.
Since there is a delicate balance between sodium and other electrolytes in the body, this increase in sodium excretion may disrupt other electrolytes as well.
In some cases, this leads to symptoms such as headache, brain fog, nausea, dizziness, insomnia and lethargy.
While these symptoms are temporary, they may continue longer than is necessary if your electrolytes are not corrected.
The main electrolytes affected by this process are sodium, potassium and magnesium.
There are other electrolytes in your bloodstream, such as calcium and phosphorus, but their levels don’t change much.
However, getting sodium, magnesium, and potassium in balance can help prevent these symptoms.
If you engage in endurance exercise or any type of rigorous physical activity, you may find it difficult to get enough electrolytes solely from food, and you may choose to take supplements for performance reasons.
Symptoms of electrolyte deficiency and what to do about it:
- Difficulty concentrating
Add more salt to your food at meal times.
If needed, especially the first week, have 1-2 cups of clear bone broth daily, or ½ teaspoon of salt in a glass of water.
If low sodium is the issue, you will feel better within 30 minutes of drinking it.
According to many health organisations, most people should cut back on sodium in order to prevent high blood pressure and other health problems.
On high-carb diets, this might be true.
However, on a lower-carb diet, your sodium needs may actually increase, due to increased losses via the kidneys.
When carb intake is reduced, blood insulin levels decrease and there is an increase in the amount of sodium the body loses.
Daily need: 3 – 7 g of sodium (7 – 17 g of salt, i.e. 1-3 teaspoons)
Note that salt and sodium are not quite same thing, when you calculate your daily intake. Salt contains only 40% sodium, and the remainder is another mineral, chloride. So although you increase your sodium intake by eating more salt, it’s important to remember that eating one teaspoon (6 g) of salt provides you with only 2.4 g of actual sodium.
If you do physical exercise, adding sodium prior to a workout may improve your performance. Try taking ½ teaspoon of salt within the half hour prior to exercising.
Note: If you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney disease, be sure to speak with your doctor before increasing your sodium intake.
When your body loses sodium, your kidneys excrete more potassium in an attempt to maintain balance.
- Heart palpitations / increased awareness of heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
Ensure you are consuming adequate potassium-rich foods each day (see below).
- Avocado 1,000 mg per medium avocado
- Spinach, cooked 840 mg per cup
- Mushrooms, cooked 550 mg per cup
- Broccoli, cooked 460 mg per cup
- Salmon 430–500 mg per 114 grams
- Meat 400–500 mg per 114 grams
- Flounder 400 mg per 114 grams
- Lemon/lime juice (juice of one lemon = 50mg)
Note: If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, or are taking medications for any other condition, be sure to speak with your doctor before you consider an increase in your potassium intake
- Muscle twitching or cramping at night or after exercising.
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty swallowing
Although muscle cramps can also occur with inadequate potassium, sodium, or fluid intake, getting too little magnesium is also a very common cause.
Include magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as leafy greens, salmon, tuna, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, green beans and asparagus.
If needed, take a magnesium supplement and/or have an Epsom Salt bath. Your body can absorb magnesium through your skin.
Unlike sodium and potassium, magnesium needs aren’t necessarily increased on a lower-carb diet. However, although magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods, many people don’t get enough magnesium from diet alone.
Daily need: 400 mg magnesium
Note: If you have kidney disease, you may not be able to handle a large amount of magnesium. In addition, certain medications may interact negatively with magnesium supplements. Speak with your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement if any of these apply to you.
You may also consider making up your own electrolyte drink and consume 500mls per day over 4 consecutive days:*
Juice of one large lemon (potassium)
1 teaspoon salt (sodium)
1 teaspoon magnesium (such as Bioceuticals Ultra Muscleze Night)
* please note: if you are taking certain medications or have kidney disease, this may not be appropriate.