The 3 Key Electrolytes Drinks You Need to Replenish Essential Nutrients |

The 3 Key Electrolytes Drinks You Need to Replenish Essential Nutrients

From training for a marathon to recovering from an illness, ensuring electrolyte balance is crucial for your health and well-being. But it can be overwhelming to sort out which one is right for you—especially because there are seemingly endless electrolyte options to choose from.

To help you choose the one that is right for you, below we explore the role of electrolytes in the body, highlighting beverages with electrolytes. Keep reading to find out how to maintain proper hydration and support your overall health and fitness goals with the right electrolytes.

The Importance of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential minerals in our bodies that are found in certain foods and beverages and carry electric charges. They are vital for several critical body processes, like maintaining fluid balance, blood acidity, muscle function, and more. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride are all key electrolytes that play different and complementary roles.

“Sodium and potassium, for example, work together 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 help maintain a steady heartbeat, while chloride helps move nutrients into the cells.”

Most healthy adults can maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance through a balanced diet and drinking enough water, she says. However, when you sweat 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 replace them. Illnesses that include symptoms like 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 rely heavily on the electrical impulses conducted by electrolytes,” says Kelsey Kunik, RDN and nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness.

Types of Electrolyte-Rich Drinks

Some of the most popular electrolyte-containing drinks on the market include coconut water, sports drinks and tablets, and certain fruit juices. While all choices provide good sources of hydration, as opposed to other beverages like coffee, soda, and energy drinks, they vary in electrolyte composition, making them appropriate for different purposes.

Coconut water is high in potassium—providing around 400 milligrams (mg) of the micronutrient per one cup (of unsweetened coconut water)—which can help support a healthy heart and kidneys. Potassium is a mineral that is typically under-consumed, with many Americans falling short of the recommended daily amounts (RDA), which are 3,400 mg for men and 2,300 mg for women.

Sports drinks and tablets also include potassium, as well as sodium. “Sports drinks contain ample amounts of sodium, potassium, and quick digesting carbohydrates, which help replenish electrolytes, hydration status, and energy levels,” says Catherine Karnatz, MPH, RD, anti-diet culture dietitian and creator of Nutrition Education RD. For example, Gatorade’s “Thirst Quencher” drink provides about 290 mg sodium and 45 mg potassium per bottle.

Certain fruit juices, like orange juice and watermelon juice, mainly offer potassium and magnesium. For instance, orange juice provides 440 mg of potassium and 27 mg of magnesium per cup.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is the clear fluid found inside coconuts and includes some magnesium and sodium and is highest in potassium. Popular brands of coconut water include Vita Coco, ZICO and Zola.

Since some of us have a hard time drinking regular ole H20, coconut water is a good option for those who are looking for a little flavor to help them stay hydrated in general. “Many people also enjoy the flavor of electrolyte products, so drinking them can help you stay hydrated if they help you increase your total daily fluid intake,” shares Yawitz.

However, since it lacks sodium — the primary electrolyte lost in sweat — it may not be the best option for your post-workout drink. “Replenishing sodium after a sweaty workout is necessary, so unless sodium is added to coconut water, it’s not a great electrolyte drink,” Kunik says. In fact, research shows coconut water may not be more hydrating than plain water during and after workouts.

Sports Drinks, Mixes, and Tablets

Do you work out in heat, for longer 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 weary 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.

Fruit Juices

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 tweak it to make your taste buds happy, 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 training or racing and want to keep it simple, Yawitz points to pickle juice and adding salt to drinks.

“A lot of endurance athletes swear by drinking pickle juice after long workouts,” she says. “A three-ounce serving contains about 900 milligrams of sodium plus a bit of potassium and magnesium. Adding a dash of salt to unflavored coconut water can also help replace some of the electrolytes lost during intense exercise. You don’t need much—1/4 teaspoon (or even a little less) should do the trick after an intense hour-long workout.”

For recipes, check out Bucket List Tummy, which is geared towards runners’ electrolyte needs, and MEM Nutrition and Wellness blogs, which offers drink ideas for multiple electrolyte needs.

Other Electrolyte Sources

Because several foods offer electrolytes, enjoying a relatively balanced diet is a foundational aspect of keeping yourself properly hydrated, regardless of activity level or illness, says Yawitz. “The best ways to maintain electrolyte balance and hydration are to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and to drink plenty of water.”

For example, you can get 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 found in a number of processed foods, and also foods like tinned fish, canned beans, pickles, and sunflower seeds,” adds Kunik. “You can add sodium to your food as well with a few shakes of the saltshaker.”

Bottom Line

Electrolyte balance and hydration are key factors in keeping you alive and well. Intense and/or prolonged exercise, extreme heat exposure, and illness recovery require special care and attention to electrolyte replenishment. With an abundance of options, you can pick the electrolyte sources that make sense for your health needs, activity level, and personal preferences.

To stay well-hydrated, try including nutritious foods in your diet regularly (like fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains), consuming enough fluids, as well as incorporating electrolyte beverages depending on your unique needs.

“It’s important to remember that hydration and electrolyte needs vary from person to person based on numerous individual factors, including physical activity level, nutrition, fluid needs, underlying medical conditions, and more,” advises Karnatz.

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