Do You Need an Electrolyte Drink?
We all know it’s important to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise—but do you really need a special electrolyte drink to do that or is water sufficient? It turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all formula—your exercise program and level of sweat will determine your needs.
What are Electrolytes?
We know we lose electrolytes when we sweat—but what exactly does that mean?
Electrolytes are substances in the human body that are essential to the normal function of our cells and organs. They help maintain proper fluid balance and nerve and muscle functioning. The most commonly measured electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. Maintaining a healthy balance of these electrolytes in the body is critical, which is why some experts recommend electrolyte replacement during and after exercise.
Understanding Fluid Replacement
We know that it’s important to drink fluids before, during, and after exercise in order to stay hydrated and replace fluids lost as a result of sweating. Most people hydrate with water, which is usually sufficient for hydration needs during moderate exercise.
Fluid replacement needs vary depending on several factors:
- Duration of exercise
- Intensity level of exercise
- Type and degree of sweating
Individuals who exercise at higher intensity levels, are heavier, and/or exercise in warmer climates may need more fluids than their counterparts who are smaller or live in cooler climates; however, it is unclear whether these individuals also need more electrolytes.
Know Your Individual Needs
Professional endurance athletes who exercise for hours on end may need electrolyte replacement drinks—but do you?
In general, electrolyte replacement drinks are recommended when exercise exceeds three hours. For exercise that lasts less than three hours, water is probably sufficient. That said, individual bodies react differently to exertion. There are several questions to consider when choosing a fluid replacement:
- Are you well hydrated prior to exercise?
- How much do you sweat?
- What is the outdoor temperature?
- How long and at what intensity level do you plan to exercise?
More often than not, the average exerciser really only needs water. However, if you’re training for an endurance event and your workouts start growing longer (3 hours or more) and/or you’re exercising in warm temperatures, you may want to consider adding an electrolyte replacement drink to the mix.
Choosing an Electrolyte Drink
Electrolyte drinks sound like a good idea on paper—they contain sodium, potassium, and other essential electrolytes that we lose when we sweat. However, most sports drinks or electrolyte drinks are also loaded with sugar and some even contain unhealthy additives and food colorings. If you decide you need an electrolyte drink, examine the ingredient label carefully—and look for a drink that is low in sugar.
Several companies are now bottling young coconut water, which is considered by many to be nature’s electrolyte replacement drink. Young coconut water contains a perfect blend of electrolytes and has a very mild taste.
Finally, you can make your own sports drink:
In the blender, combine:
- 32 ounces water
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon high quality sea salt
- 1-2 cups of fresh fruit
- Sweetener of your choice (optional) (maple syrup, honey, agave)