The list of nutrients your body needs to run – vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and all the rest – includes one more item that most people either forget or know little about: electrolytes.

The National Library of Medicine explains that electrolytes include certain minerals in your blood, urine, tissues and other body fluids that carry a positive or negative electrical charge. Electrolytes are important because they help:

The most important electrolytes, which you get in the foods and beverages you eat and drink, include:

“Electrolytes establish an electrical gradient across cell membrane to allow fluid and waste exchange,” says Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the District of Columbia and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They transmit nerve impulses, stimulate muscles to relax and contract and allow glands to function properly, she says, and they maintain plasma membrane permeability. “Electrolytes also keep the heart beating on a regular rhythm. They can play a role in preventing the muscle cramps that a runner or a construction worker might get,” Maples adds.

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