The very low-carb nature of a ketogenic diet can change the way your body handles electrolytes and water.

That means that it can be easy to experience electrolyte imbalances and dehydration when you’re first starting and throughout your ketogenic journey.

Don’t worry though — it’s any easy fix!

In this article you’ll learn:

Let’s go.

Electrolytes on Keto

When you begin a ketogenic diet and drastically cut back on carbs, your body produces less insulin and glycogen stores are depleted. For every gram of glycogen (stored carbs) three grams of water are stored as well.

As those stores are depleted, our kidneys go from retaining water to excreting more of it. If you’ve done keto before, you may have noticed that you experienced a “whoosh” early on, where you lost a lot of weight and felt less bloated.

This is water weight resulting from the excretion of water.

The upside? Looking better.

The downside? With this flush of water, important minerals called electrolytes are excreted too.

Below we’ll cover what electrolytes actually are, why they’re important, and how to replenish them.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are specific nutrients in our bodies crucial for important functions like:

  • Muscle contractions
  • Heartbeat regulation
  • Body temperature control
  • Bladder control
  • Energy production
  • Neurological functions

Without electrolytes, you wouldn’t exist.

keto electrolytes

You must have enough of these in your body for processes to function correctly. If one or more of these electrolytes are deficient, you’re going to have some issues.

Symptoms of electrolyte deficiency include:

  • Heart palpitations or racing heart
  • Feeling shaky, dizzy or weak like you’re going to pass out
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Leg or other muscles cramps, such as getting Charlie horses at night
  • Trouble with constipation and bloating

These are all symptoms of what’s known as the keto flu, which occurs during the initial period where our bodies are adjusting to the lack of carbohydrates and switching to running on fats (ketosis).

The keto flu really comes down to electrolyte imbalances. If you don’t understand these symptoms you may come to the conclusion that keto just isn’t right for you — but in reality, it’s just an adjustment period.

Electrolyte imbalances can happen to those who are new to the ketogenic diet — but thankfully there are some simple ways to address these imbalances.

Here are some ways to get a good dose of the electrolytes you need:

4 Vitamins and Minerals That Replenish Electrolytes

Electrolytes can be replenished through your nutrition.

There are four main vitamins and minerals that help rebalance your electrolytes and get you out of that dreaded keto flu.

#1: Sodium

Use more salt! Sodium gets a bad rap for causing health problems, but things are a little different on the ketogenic diet. When excess water is dumped from the kidneys, electrolytes like sodium go with it [*].

Sodium is an important mineral and electrolyte that helps retain water in the body and keeps a proper balance of other electrolytes. Sodium is also very important for muscle and nerve function.

You can replenish sodium by adding salt to your water and food or by regularly drinking bone broth (Kettle and Fire is a good brand if you don’t want to make your own).

#2: Potassium

Potassium is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, regulating heart rate, and ensuring proper fluid balance in the body. Like sodium, we also need potassium for nerve and muscle function.

However, too much potassium is toxic so it’s advised to be careful with supplementation. Thankfully, there are great whole food sources out there that contain adequate amounts of potassium. These include salmon, nuts, avocados, leafy green veggies and mushrooms.

#3: Calcium

Calcium is another very important electrolyte that plays many different roles in the body including blood clotting, building strong bones, regulating nerve function and ensuring proper muscle contraction.

You can get calcium from dairy foods, leafy greens, broccoli, fish and even non-dairy unsweetened milks like almond and coconut milk. If supplementing with calcium, make sure it includes vitamin D to ensure adequate absorption.

#4: Magnesium

Magnesium helps the body maintain a healthy immune system, normal heart rhythm, proper nerve and muscle function and many other biochemical reactions. Like calcium, it’s needed for building healthy and strong bones.

Leafy greens and nuts have magnesium but you may need to supplement as well (around 500 mg per day is sufficient for most people).

There are many more vitamins and minerals you need to consider when you’re on the keto diet, but a keto greens powder is usually the best way to cover all your vitamin and mineral bases.

Note: If you lead an overly stressful life or exercise often, you may need more of these minerals. Stress can affect hormone balance, leading to further fluid and electrolyte imbalances and hard exercise can deplete sodium levels to a greater degree.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of electrolyte balance on keto, the next section will address another complaint that is common for those who are first starting off — dehydration.

Dehydration on Keto

Water makes up more than 50% of your body and is probably the most important necessity in life.

Obviously, getting enough water is crucial for our ability to thrive.

Although everyone should be mindful of their body’s water requirements and stay hydrated, if you’re eating a ketogenic diet (at least in the beginning phase) you may have higher water needs.

The low-carb nature of this diet leads to more water loss as we discussed earlier. This can lead to at least mild dehydration, which can contribute to constipation and many of the other keto flu symptoms.

So, what can you do about this? The answer is pretty obvious (drink more water!) but here are some tips for staying hydrated:

How to Stay Hydrated

Since the main reason for electrolyte depletion on keto is excess water excretion and less water retention, increasing water and electrolyte intake is the best way to prevent issues with imbalances.

The amount of water that you need to consume daily depends on your activity levels, the climate you live in, the other foods and drinks you consume, and others.

You’ve surely heard the standard eight glasses a day, but there’s no scientific evidence to back this up.

But, the “eight glasses” rule may help you remember to drink water regularly.

One thing to note is that too much water intake can flush out electrolytes more quickly, which is counterintuitive.

This is why the best rule of thumb is to drink to thirst

Listen to what your body tells you, eat whole foods like vegetables that are naturally high in water content and get really good at recognizing thirst so you can stay properly hydrated throughout the day.

Don’t Fall Victim to Electrolyte Imbalances and Dehydration

Starting a ketogenic diet can increase electrolyte and water loss so replenishing both is important for overall health and reducing uncomfortable side effects.

Focus on getting sufficient amounts of sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium either from your diet or in supplement form (and talk to your doctor if in doubt).

Be mindful of drinking water throughout the day and definitely drink when you feel thirsty.

Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.

Over the last few years, he has treated thousands of patients with movement rehab, internal diagnostics, and natural interventions, including NFL, MLB and NBA champions. After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.

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Responses (18)

  1. Very informative article!
    I have been very low carb for years now and am struggling with electrolyte balance! It is affecting my whole life in such a negative way…,
    -I add up to 1 teaspoon of light salt daily
    -magnesium oil on my legs/ plus Epsom baths each night
    -I eat spinach/mushrooms/avocados daily
    -I eat fish every night for dinner
    -I do take a multi & Vit D supplements
    -I weight train 3xweekly, incline brisk walking 4-5 days week
    -I do strictly follow very low carb/low cal diet, without refeeds.

    I’m just off balance and it affects everything!
    PLEASE HELP ME FIGURE THIS OUT!
    *i am going for blood work tomorrow for some answers and wish I could find a doctor that specializes in low carb- any advice there???

  2. I am struggling with insomnia. ..I take magnesium. .just started taking potassium. And sodium..I also cut out coffee..I’m trying to figure out what is wrong. .did all kinds of blood test and all normal. .im confused..any advice? ?

  3. What time of day do you exercise? Are you overly stressed? Eating too close to bedtime? Too much blue light or time on your comp/phone/watching tv? There’s many different things that can affect sleep.

  4. I too have been low carb/keto for about 10 months and am just now struggling with headaches. Of course no doctor I’ve seen has any idea what it can be other than the obvious answers (and of course prescriptions) but I’m researching and thinking it might be an electrolyte imbalance, maybe even hormonal and perhaps both, related. Going to try adding more sodium. Took some with bone broth tonight and feeling better….will continue experimenting. Finding it odd that I’d only start experiencing these symptoms recently…it’s all quite perplexing.

  5. Did you check your hormones too? As you get older lack of hormones affect it too… But I also agree w other poster about light, late exercise etc

  6. I too suffer from insomnia, I’ve just started taking 5mg of melatonin 1/2hr before bed and am sleeping like a baby!!!

  7. Ive started mixing 1tbsp of Gelatin into my electrolytes liquid and drink it down morning and evening and wow what a difference! Ive also add 1 tbsp fat, mct oil, coconut oil.
    You can add plain Gelatin to any beverage, soups, etc. I hear its great in coffee too
    You have to try it and see the difference for yourself.
    Great Lakes or Zint both make healthy Gelatin that aides in joint buffering for backs, knees and so on. It also helps lessen wrinkles, aided in hair growth, nails. Read the reviews on amazon
    I just started taking it, 3 days in snd my dizziness has been cut by 75% . I have already noticed my crapey Skin lessoning too

    People also add it to plain pediolyte -just check carbs

  8. I failed at keto before because of this difficulty balancing electrolytes so this time around I am adding even more salt and finding it has been going better (but I have to be very diligent with this). Maybe try adding more salt throughout the day? About 2 tsp worth

  9. hey
    check out whether too much oil causing your headaches
    I have never had headaches until a strong diet… I guess it was too much olive oil 🙂

  10. I had the same problem, where every fluid would get flushed out. I started taking supplemental pills for Magnesium, Potassium, and Iodine along with more salty foods. Cheese helped on the calcium part.

  11. I am in my 6th month of the keto diet and in recent weeks, nocturnal leg cramps have become a major issue. During the day I feel fine and I am okay at maintaining the macro ratios plus I eat tons of spinach along with the other keto-appropriate foods. I have just started to take magnesium and potassium supplements and am drinking water before going to bed. But that makes me a perpetual peeing machine so I need to wake up every couple of hours. I will try adding a bit of salt. I am beginning to wonder if the missing glycogen has a role that isn’t being addressed or admitted to with this diet.

  12. I have been on a keto diet for 3 months and just recently been getting headaches everyday. I take a multi vitamin and magnesium, use Himalayan salt and I can’t imagine why this is happening. If anyone has any advice I would appreciate it

  13. Great article. I started taking multivitamin, vitamin D and a adding electrolytes to my water and feel such a difference in addition to Keto diet. I have tried a few electrolyte brands but really like the brand Optimal Hydration the best.

  14. Coffee decreases electrolytes in some people, it did with my sister. She was loving her bulletproof coffee and had to completely stop it because she was having low magnesium/ sodium issues. After she stopped her coffee habit her symptoms resolved. Plus many people doing keto aren’t eating enough. Not near enough calories, which wrecks metabolism and causes low energy, etc.

  15. To anyone suffering with Insomnia or any sleep troubles, please dont take melatonin. I took it every night for almost 5 years. I couldnt sleep without it. I learned to wheen it off and fall asleep better now by doing cardio before bed and limiting my coffee intake by not having any caffeine 8 hours before i plan to fall asleep

  16. Thanks for the info! It’s Day 3 of Keto and Day 1.5 of kicking Diet Coke. Started drinking coffee to replace the caffeine with some whipping cream. Slight headache today, added 500mg potassium/magnesium. Never a problem with salt intake for me…LOL I’m cutting water weight like crazy, already down 5 lbs. On flu alert, keto strips indicating medium range ketosis…water intake up.

  17. My doctor told me coffee dehydrates the body, for every cup of coffee consumed, need to drink two cups of water. I drink decaf coffee sometimes . I also read that keto diet effects some people thyroid and it can effect hormones. It get’s a little more complicated sometimes doctors do not understand keto. And if you have excess estrogen stored it is considered toxic fat, which is another important factor to consider , when burning this sort of toxic fat there is more careful detoxification practices that needs to take place to help I elimination I have ten pounds to lose. My doctor seemed to think Keto is too extreme for me, I don’t think it is . Anyhow, I taking electrolytes and added extra sea salt to my food I have chills, and insomnia avoiding computer at night has helped. taking hot Epsom bath before bed has helped to sleep

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