Proper hydration can have a big impact on your health. As we’ve discussed in past articles on hydration, drinking enough fluids is important for skin health, gut health, cognitive function, and many other areas of wellness.
Apart from drinking plenty of water, electrolytes can also play an important role in keeping you hydrated. But, there are a number of sports drinks, electrolyte beverages, and hydration drinks out there. How can you know which ones may give you the best for bang for your buck?
In this article, we’ll shed light on which electrolytes are important and why electrolytes matter for hydration and health. Plus, Nutrisense dietitian Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN will share her recommendations for healthy electrolyte drink options.
Why Electrolytes Matter For Hydration
A majority of your body, about 50 to 70 percent, is made up of water. However, hydration involves balancing water and minerals optimally, and this is where electrolytes come in.
During a workout, most people sweat out water and electrolytes. That’s why it’s important to hydrate yourself post-workout and ensure that you are replenishing your electrolyte levels. Low electrolyte levels can lead to side effects like muscle contractions or cramps.
Hydrating yourself properly can also be crucial for everyday functions such as:
- Physical performance
- Cognitive performance
- GI function
- Kidney function
- Cardiovascular health
- Skin health
In fact, dehydration may lead to other negative outcomes such as: feelings of low mood, fatigue, and reduced alertness.
The Primary Electrolytes
The main electrolytes our body needs are often referred to as the principal electrolytes. These electrolytes include:
In addition to these principal electrolytes, your body also needs calcium and magnesium for multiple functions throughout the body. Let’s have a deeper look at each of these electrolytes and the best way to add them to your diet.
Every person’s sodium needs are a little different. Some people with salt-sensitivity may do better with slightly lower amounts of this mineral. Although there is a lot of controversy surrounding sodium consumption, it is needed for nutrient absorption and fluid balance.
This nutrient also plays an important role in nervous system activation, as it’s responsible for the firing of neurons. Replenishing sodium levels, especially following a high intensity workout, may help improve athletic performance and can help you avoid muscle cramps and other symptoms.
Nutrisense dietitians recommend consuming high quality salts such as Himalayan salt, sea salt, or Redmond salt. The basal requirement for growing and adult humans is no greater than 500 milligrams of sodium a day.
According to researchers, a daily sodium intake of 3000 to 5000 milligrams per day is associated with the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Intakes below and above this threshold are both associated with higher risk.
Like sodium, potassium plays an important role in nervous system activation and fluid balance. It may also be important for cardiovascular health, as potassium-deficient populations are at increased risk of cardiovascular events.
Our dietitians say that the best food sources of potassium include winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn squash), potatoes, leafy greens, avocado, seafood, and dairy. Fruits such as watermelon are also good sources of potassium.
According to our dietitian team, potassium deficiencies may result from eliminating or greatly reducing these types of foods from your diet, though there are medical conditions that may predispose someone to deficiency.
The recommended dietary allowance for potassium can depend based on your age and sex:
You may know of magnesium as a muscle relaxant and may have even used it to relax stiff or tired muscles. Some research has also found it beneficial for sleep, feelings of mild anxiety, stress, as well as PMS symptoms.
The best food sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, whole grains, and sunflower seeds (and other seeds and nuts to a slightly lesser degree).
They say milk helps build strong bones for a reason! That’s because it contains calcium, which can be beneficial for bone health, especially in deficient populations. However, the best food source of calcium may not only be milk.
Other sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, dairy, canned fish with bones, and sesame seeds. Fortified foods are on par with calcium supplements, which may be relatively harder for your body to properly absorb the higher the dose.
More calcium isn’t always better and it’s important to make sure you aren’t going overboard. There may be a link between high-dose calcium supplements and heart disease.
Dietitian-Recommended Electrolyte Drink Options
While there are electrolyte drink options that can be great supplements of these minerals, your best bet to meet the recommended daily intake for these electrolytes is to consume them through food.
Nutrisense dietitian Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN, emphasizes, “Whole foods can be greatly underestimated in terms of their contribution to our electrolyte balance. Given that many whole foods contain considerable amounts of electrolytes as well as additional nutrients such as protein and other vitamins and minerals, it makes sense to prioritize whole foods as the foundation of our electrolyte balance.”
However, if you are in need of an extra dose of electrolytes, here are four electrolyte drinks you might want to consider.
1) Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Mix
This option comes in the form of a powder, and it packs a punch with optimal hydration and no added sugar. This is because Ultima Replenisher products are sweetened with stevia, meaning they are sugar-free.
They offer a variety of flavors, ranging from passion fruit to berry and even citrus. It’s paleo, vegan, keto friendly, caffeine free…so almost anyone may be able to benefit from it.
Simply mix it into your drink or smoothie to add more magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, and potassium to your diet.
2) LMNT Keto Electrolyte Powder Packets
This is one of the best electrolyte powders for those who are keto or on a low-carb diet. LMNT products are also paleo friendly, gluten-free, and free of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors.
One packet contains 1000 mg of sodium, 200 mg of potassium, and 60 mg of magnesium. Simply stir in with a beverage of your choice to get those electrolytes in.
3) Klean Athlete Hydration
Although this option was made for athletes, anyone can benefit from it. Klean products are available in both a container and a packet which can easily dissolve in water.
If you’re buying it in container form, one scoop contains 12.5 mg of vitamin C, 35 mg of calcium, 180 mg of sodium, and 70 mg of potassium.
4) Pickleball Cocktail
This orange flavored option packs a punch when it comes to getting that potassium in. One packet contains as much potassium as two bananas!
Electrolyte Drinks You May Want to Avoid
You may have noticed that we haven’t included some of the classic sport electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, and Propel. In contrast to the drinks we named above, these options tend to have artificial colors and high amounts of added sugar. For example, a 20 ounce bottle of traditional Gatorade has about 32 grams of sugar.
Another electrolyte powder that has been gaining popularity in recent years is Liquid I.V. While this drink mix is made from many natural ingredients, it also contains 11 grams of added sugar per serving.
While there are a number of adverse health effects that can be caused by overconsumption of added sugar such as weight gain and poor cardiovascular health. Due to the high sugar content of these beverages, you may be more likely to have larger glucose spikes.
Pedialyte’s line of electrolyte beverages are sweetened with a mix of sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which are two types of artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners have been associated with an increased risk for insulin resistance.
Nuun Sport, on the other hand, comes in the form of drink tablets that you can add right to your water bottle. These tablets are vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO and are primarily sweetened with stevia. However, Nuun drinks also contain lower quality ingredients and contain the least absorbable form of magnesium (oxide) and calcium (carbonate).
Are Whole Food Electrolyte Sources Better?
Food sources should ideally be the foundation for electrolyte consumption as much as possible. But why is this?
Experts promote whole food sources over supplements because they often supply these minerals in their most bioavailable forms as well as in higher amounts compared to electrolyte supplements.
Let’s compare some popular electrolyte supplement brands and their mineral content of potassium, magnesium, and calcium with that of a few different whole foods.
For example, if you eat a meal with canned salmon, spinach, and butternut squash, you might get around 183 mg of magnesium, 1300 mg of potassium, and nearly 500 mg of calcium in a single meal!
And if you ate 4 oz of yogurt with 2 oz of sunflower seeds, you might get around 200 mg of magnesium, 530 mg of potassium, and 177 mg of calcium in a single sitting.
If you are looking for an extra boost of electrolytes, electrolyte drinks can be a quick and easy way to add extra minerals to your day. However, as we’ve seen above, there are lots of easy ways to add extra electrolytes into your diet without the help of a drink or supplement.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.