When Do You Need an Electrolyte Drink? 

When it comes to staying hydrated, health experts agree water is one of the best things for your body. It offers hydration, it’s vital to keeping your body functioning properly and it’s thirst-quenching and calorie-free.  

Lately, electrolyte-infused water and sports drinks have become popular. People take them to the gym and they sip them at home or at work. But what do they actually do for your body, and when do you really need an electrolyte drink? 

What are electrolytes?  

Unless it’s distilled or ultra-filtered, most water that you drink has some trace amounts of electrolytes in them. Electrolytes are types of minerals, like calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium.  

When people sweat, either because they’re exercising, not feeling well, or because they’re in a hot place, their bodies lose a certain amount of electrolytes that then need to be replaced, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

Electrolyte drinks are beverages like specially formulated water, coconut water or sports drinks that have extra minerals added to them and are marketed as offering a health benefit.  

What are electrolytes good for?  

Our bodies need electrolytes for a few different reasons. These include: 

  • Regulating blood pressure 
  • Regulating how muscles contract and function 
  • Helping to balance fluid levels in the body 

In general, electrolytes lost during a workout need to be replaced to keep your body functioning well and to keep your water levels balanced in your body. Muscle cramping, fatigue, dry lips and dizziness are all signs that being low on electrolytes is causing dehydration. Electrolytes can be replenished through food or an electrolyte drink. While plain water is your best bet to hydrate during and after a workout, excess sweating may warrant an electrolyte drink. If you are exercising for over 75 minutes or in extreme heat, keeping an electrolyte drink on hand during and after working out is a good idea.  

Can you have too many electrolytes?  

Just like with anything you eat or drink, you can also get too much of a good thing when it comes to electrolytes. Let’s say you’re not sweating or working out, but you’re sipping on electrolyte-added drinks during the day. You may get an overabundance of them in your body.  

For example, sodium is a common electrolyte and is needed to help your body function. But if your sodium levels get too high, it can prompt your body to hold onto extra water to help dilute that sodium. This causes swelling in your body and can raise your blood pressure, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.   

As with anything, don’t overdo the electrolyte drinks. Also, make sure you’re reading the labels so you know how much sodium, magnesium and other electrolytes are in the drinks, and compare it to the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) chart.   

How do you get more electrolytes?  

Now that you know how important electrolytes are, you understand it’s good to have these available when you need to replace them. Eating a balanced diet with nutritious foods at every meal is the best place to start.  

There here are also several foods that have high levels of electrolytes, including:   

  • Strawberries 
  • Oranges 
  • Bananas 
  • Peanuts 
  • Spinach 
  • Watermelon 
  • Milk 
  • Almonds 
  • Yogurt

If you have concerns about whether you are consuming enough electrolytes, talk to your primary care provider about your diet and nutrition to get expert advice. They may recommend an electrolyte beverage or mix.  


Photo credit: Getty Images

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