Electrolyte Drinks: What You Need to Know About These Beverages

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A man holding an electrolyte drink after a workout | Source: iStock

After a serious cardio session at the gym, you may feel as if you need to replenish all of the carbs and minerals you’ve lost through sweat. Electrolyte drinks like Gatorade and Powerade promise to replenish essential nutrients so you can finish your workout feeling just as energized as when you started, but are they really any better than water? It’s important to understand exactly how electrolytes help the body and when to drink them, as electrolyte drinks can cause more harm than good if consumed excessively. It’s time to take a second look at that bottle of Gatorade and decide whether or not it’s helping your body.

Electrolytes are incredibly important to the human body, and we need to have the correct balance to ensure proper function. Medical News Today explains electrolytes actually carry an electrical charge — they produce a solution that’s electrically conducive once dissolved in water. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride are all electrolytes, and they work to regulate blood pressure and keep the nerves and muscles functioning properly. Electrolytes also help to rebuild damaged tissue and keep the body hydrated, which is helpful for those who participate in a lot of physical activity. When electrolyte levels are low, you may experience muscle weakness, twitching, or muscles that start to severely contract. And don’t forget — the heart is a muscular organ, meaning an electrolyte imbalance can impact your ticker as well.

While most people don’t have a problem regulating their own electrolyte levels naturally from eating plenty of fruits and veggies, those who go through rigorous exercise routines consistently may need the extra boost electrolyte drinks offer. Shape explains Gatorade was originally created for the University of Florida football players, who were going through extreme two-day training sessions in the extreme heat. While they needed the added electrolyte replenishment after their intense sessions, the general rule for consuming electrolyte drinks is you probably don’t need them if your sweat session lasts for less than an hour.

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Bottles of vitaminwater stocked on a shelf | Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images for vitaminwater

On the other hand, if you’re exercising in an extremely hot environment and losing more than 2% of your body weight post-workout, then you should help yourself to an electrolyte drink. In situations where you’re sweating a lot, even if the workout doesn’t reach an hour, it may be appropriate for you to grab one of these sports drinks and some water, just to ensure that your levels are in check.

When choosing an electrolyte drink, it’s important to look at the beverage in its entirety. While it may have a refreshing flavor and a ton of nutrients packed in the bottle, are these benefits accompanied with a ton of calories and sugar as well? Livestrong states one of the best choices for those looking to drink their electrolytes without any added sugar or dye is to purchase bottled water with only electrolytes added to the mix. Smartwater by Glaceau is a popular choice for those looking for something simple.

If you’re looking for a drink with a bit more flavor than traditional water, then you may want to go for coconut water instead. Dr. Axe reports coconut water is a great source of potassium, and it also contains up to 10% of your daily value of both calcium and magnesium. The only downside to coconut water is that it’s low in sodium, an important electrolyte..

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Gym memberships can break your budget | Source: iStock

Those looking for something closer to Gatorade or Powerade should keep in mind those brightly colored liquids are unnatural. Paleo Edge states these artificial colors are made from oils, which man be harmful. Gatorade is also loaded with sugar and has very little magnesium and chloride, so it won’t replenish all of your lost electrolytes after an intense workout. Powerade is similar to Gatorade in that it’s also heavy on the sweet stuff in the form of corn syrup. Also, be wary of any electrolyte drinks that contain flavoring without the sugar — there’s a good chance that they could contain artificial sweeteners, which may be no better.

Once you’ve found a good drink that’s perfect for rehydrating and refueling your lost electrolytes, don’t be surprised if you see some athletic improvement. Runner’s Connect says you should drink your electrolyte beverage after working out, as this is the perfect time to bring all of those lost nutrients back into your body. Before and during your workout, your main objective should be to rehydrate, so regular water is perfect for this task.

Don’t want to purchase sports drinks loaded with a list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce? Try making your own electrolyte drink instead. Everyday Roots suggests creating your own beverage by using a combination of lemon juice, lime juice, sea salt, honey, and strawberries for potassium and calcium. You can change this mixture up as well, choosing different fruits based on their different nutritional benefits.

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