From practice for a marathon to recovering from an illness, ensuring electrolyte equilibrium is crucial for your well-being and health. But it can be overwhelming to sort out which one is appropriate for you—particularly because there are seemingly limitless electrolyte choices to select.
To assist you in selecting the appropriate one for you, below we explore the function of electrolytes in the body, highlighting beverages with electrolytes. Keep reading to discover how to sustain proper hydration and support your overall health and fitness objectives with the appropriate electrolytes.
The Significance of Electrolytes
Electrolytes are essential minerals in our bodies that are found in specific foods and beverages and carry electrical charges. They are essential for several vital body processes, such as maintaining fluid balance, blood acidity, muscle function, and more. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride are all major electrolytes that play distinct and complementary roles.
“Sodium and potassium, for instance, collaborate to balance the amount of fluid inside and outside your cells,” says Kim Yawitz, RD, owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, Missouri. “Calcium and magnesium assist in maintaining a consistent heartbeat, while chloride aids in the movement of nutrients into the cells.”
Most healthy adults can sustain proper hydration and electrolyte equilibrium through a well-balanced diet and consuming sufficient water, she says. However, when you perspire through exercise that is moderate to high intensity and/or lasts longer than an hour or are exposed to heat, you lose electrolytes and need to replenish them. Illnesses that include symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can also cause you to lose electrolytes.
“When electrolytes are depleted, the risk of dehydration significantly increases and your heart, brain, and muscle function can suffer, as they heavily rely on the electrical impulses conducted by electrolytes,” says Kelsey Kunik, RDN and nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness.
Types of Beverages Rich in Electrolytes
Some of the most popular electrolyte-containing beverages on the market include coconut water, sports drinks and tablets, and specific fruit juices.
While all options offer excellent means of hydration, as opposed to alternative drinks such as java, pop, and energizing beverages, they differ in electrolyte constitution, rendering them suitable for distinct objectives.
Coconut water contains a substantial amount of potassium, providing approximately 400 milligrams (mg) of the micronutrient per one cup (of unsweetened coconut water). This can assist in maintaining a healthy heart and kidneys. Potassium is a mineral that is typically consumed inadequately, with many Americans not meeting the recommended daily amounts (RDA). The RDA for men is 3,400 mg and for women is 2,300 mg.
Sports drinks and tablets also contain potassium and sodium. “Sports drinks contain generous quantities of sodium, potassium, and easily digestible carbohydrates, which aid in replenishing electrolytes, hydration status, and energy levels,” states Catherine Karnatz, MPH, RD, anti-diet culture dietitian and creator of Nutrition Education RD. For instance, Gatorade’s “Thirst Quencher” drink provides approximately 290 mg of sodium and 45 mg of potassium per bottle.
Certain fruit juices, such as orange juice and watermelon juice, primarily offer potassium and magnesium. For example, orange juice supplies 440 mg of potassium and 27 mg of magnesium per cup.
Coconut water is the translucent liquid found inside coconuts and contains some magnesium and sodium, but it is richest in potassium. Well-known brands of coconut water include Vita Coco, ZICO, and Zola.
As some individuals struggle to consume plain water, coconut water serves as a favorable choice for those seeking a bit of flavor to aid in general hydration. “Many people also enjoy the taste of electrolyte products, so drinking them can assist with overall hydration if they contribute to increasing your total daily fluid intake,” shares Yawitz.
However, due to its low sodium content—the primary electrolyte lost through sweat—it may not be the ideal option for your post-workout beverage. “It is necessary to replenish sodium after a vigorous workout, so unless coconut water is fortified with sodium, it does not serve as an effective electrolyte drink,” says Kunik. In fact, research indicates that coconut water may not be more hydrating than plain water before, during, and after workouts.
Sports Drinks, Mixes, and Tablets
Do you exercise in hot conditions, for more than an hour at a time and/or at a moderate- to high-intensity? You may benefit from a sports beverage, mix, or tablet.
“The average adult athlete loses 300 milligrams of sodium or more every hour of intense exercise,” Yawitz shares. Some popular options include Gatorade, Powerade, Liquid IV, Nuun Electrolytes, and Skratch.
“A good sports drink will have carbohydrates to replenish glycogen [carbohydrate] stores after long or intense exercise as well as electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium,” says Kunik. “As the body loses water and electrolytes, sodium levels in the body can fall leading to fluid shifts in the body, which can lead to confusion or even seizures if not replenished.”
While some people may be wary of sports drinks with sugar, research shows that carbohydrates (which include sugar) can help improve performance when exercising or competing in the heat for more than an hour. If you exercise for less than an hour at a low to moderate intensity, water will likely do the trick.
Drinking fruit juices like orange and watermelon juice can help you stay hydrated and provide essential nutrients, including potassium and magnesium. Around 1 cup of watermelon juice contains 270 mg of potassium and 24 mg of magnesium.
If you are concerned about blood sugar stability, try pairing your glass of OJ with a meal or snack containing protein, fat, and fiber (like avocado toast on whole wheat toast with an egg) to prevent large blood sugar spikes.
When it comes to exercise, juice is missing one key electrolyte—sodium. “While fruit juice can help replace glycogen stores and water after a workout, they aren’t a good option for electrolytes,” explains Kunik. “Mixing a zero-carb electrolytes powder into a fruit juice is an option, but fruit juice by itself isn’t a great rehydration choice after an exhausting workout.”
Homemade Electrolyte Drinks
If you are not a fan of store-bought electrolyte beverages, you can make your own at home and adjust it to satisfy your taste buds, says Karnatz. “Homemade electrolyte drinks can be made in a pinch with common ingredients that you likely already have stocked in your kitchen. Not only that, but they’re often more cost-effective than store-bought electrolyte drink varieties.”
It’s best to include a carbohydrate source and flavor enhancers, along with electrolytes including sodium especially if you’re using it as a sports or activity hydration source.
If you are engaging in training or competing and desire to maintain simplicity, Yawitz suggests pickle brine and incorporating sodium into beverages.
Many endurance athletes swear by consuming pickle juice after lengthy workouts,” she states. “A three-ounce serving contains approximately 900 milligrams of sodium plus a bit of potassium and magnesium. Adding a pinch of salt to unflavored coconut water can also aid in replenishing some of the electrolytes lost during strenuous exercise. You don’t require much—1/4 teaspoon (or even slightly less) should suffice following an intense hour-long workout.”
For recipes, check out Bucket List Tummy, which caters to the electrolyte needs of runners, and MEM Nutrition and Wellness blogs, which provide drink ideas for various electrolyte requirements.
Other Electrolyte Sources
Since several foods offer electrolytes, maintaining a relatively balanced diet is a fundamental aspect of ensuring proper hydration, regardless of activity level or illness, says Yawitz. “The most effective methods for maintaining electrolyte balance and hydration are to consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and to drink ample water.”
For instance, you can obtain your magnesium and calcium from leafy greens like spinach and kale, potassium from avocados and sweet potatoes, magnesium from nuts and seeds, and calcium, magnesium, and sodium from dairy products.
“Sodium is present in a variety of processed foods, as well as foods such as canned fish, canned beans, pickles, and sunflower seeds,” adds Kunik. “You can also add sodium to your food by sprinkling a few shakes from the saltshaker.”
Electrolyte balance and hydration are essential factors in maintaining your well-being. Intense and/or prolonged exercise, extreme heat exposure, and recovering from illness require special attention to replenishing electrolytes. With a wide range of options available, you can select the sources of electrolytes that align with your health needs, activity level, and personal preferences.
To stay adequately hydrated, endeavor to regularly include nutritious foods in your diet (such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains), consume sufficient fluids, as well as incorporate electrolyte beverages based on your specific needs.
“It’s crucial to remember that hydration and electrolyte requirements differ among individuals due to various factors, including physical activity level, nutrition, fluid needs, underlying medical conditions, and more,” advises Karnatz.