5 Benefits of Electrolyte Drinks

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It’s no secret that staying hydrated is essential for good health. However, whether it’s fueling your workouts or recovering from the flu, your body needs more than just water. Enter electrolytes—essential minerals required for basic life functions, such as balancing pH levels, regulating fluid balance, muscle contractions, and more.

Sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and magnesium are just some of the several electrolytes required through food and liquids for your body to stay healthy and function properly.

One of the most effective ways to get electrolytes is through electrolyte drinks. These beverages contain mostly water, electrolytes (generally sodium and potassium), and added sugars depending on the quality of the product.

Electrolyte drinks are intended to hydrate your body and replenish minerals, carbohydrates, and other nutrients lost during physical activity or illness. Read on to find out the top five benefits of electrolyte drinks so you’re better equipped to keep your electrolytes balanced and prevent dehydration.

Enhance Athletic Performance

Electrolyte-infused waters or sports drinks benefit athletes, runners, and other exercise enthusiasts. They help fuel your body before a workout and replenish fluids, energy, and electrolytes depleted during exercise.

For athletes, electrolyte drinks are preferred over regular water because electrolytes are excreted through sweat (mainly sodium, chloride, and potassium). Replenishing electrolytes, along with carbohydrates, during exercise becomes essential to optimize performance when exercise bouts are longer than 60 to 90 minutes.

Sodium is an essential electrolyte for athletes to replenish because this mineral helps stimulate fluid intake and promote fluid retention. Research also shows a link between salt loss and cramps. Sodium intake recommendations are 300 to 600 milligrams per hour or 1.7 to 2.9 grams of salt during an exercise bout.

Potassium, like sodium, helps with regulating fluids in the body along with protein and carbohydrate synthesis. Chloride helps with acid balance and electrolyte balance in the blood.

It’s worth noting that only athletes and active individuals exercising longer than 60 to 90 minutes should consume electrolyte sports drinks regularly since these beverages usually contain carbs, added sugars, and extra calories in addition to electrolytes. This will be more important for endurance training versus weight training.

“Having an adequate amount of electrolytes can prevent muscle cramps and spasms that can significantly impact your performance goals," says Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. "Preventing dehydration and imbalance of electrolytes before exercise is the best way to ensure top athletic performance. Still, they should be as much a part of your recovery process as well.”

Rehydrate During Sickness

Whether it’s the flu, a stomach bug, or some other illness, staying on top of hydration and replenishing electrolytes when you’re sick is essential for helping your body get back in top form as soon as possible. Electrolyte drinks are easy for your body to digest and quickly absorb electrolytes and nutrients lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

Also, electrolytes play an important role in the immune system. For example, potassium, chloride, calcium, and sodium work synergistically to promote healthy apoptosis—the process your body uses to destroy damaged cells before they mutate.

If you're down and out with the flu and have either a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea (or any combination of the three), you're at a higher risk for dehydration,” says Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness. “Losing fluids quickly can also lead to electrolyte imbalances as you're also losing things like sodium and potassium along with that fluid. Sipping on an electrolyte drink can replace valuable fluid and electrolytes, helping you to feel better faster.”

Promote Recovery and Rebuild Damaged Tissue

When recovering after an intense workout, injury, or surgery, it’s vital to replenish electrolytes for healing and hydration. For example, some electrolytes, such as calcium, are critical for blood clotting and bone health.

Electrolytes (sodium, in particular) help maintain proper water balance inside and outside your body’s cells through a process called osmosis. That’s why it’s vital to prevent electrolyte imbalances and dehydration following surgery or injury by consuming electrolyte drinks.

“Electrolytes are located in multiple areas of the body, including tissues,” explains Best. “When tissues are damaged, an imbalance occurs that must be restored for adequate healing. This means an adequate amount of electrolytes must be present to rebalance and begin the healing process. That’s why surgical patients often have intravenous (IV) fluids containing electrolytes before, during, and after surgery.”

Maintain Cellular Health

Another benefit of the water in electrolyte drinks is that they transport nutrients into your body’s cells and clear waste products out of them. Water's function is essential for keeping your cells alive and for overall health.

It also helps protect your body's organs and tissues as well as carries nutrients and oxygen to cells. Additionally, it lessens the burden on your kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products.

Help Prevent Heat Stroke

When exposed to hot environments, your body cools down by releasing heat through your skin and sweating. Electrolytes are lost through sweat (primarily sodium and chloride, and small amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium).

It’s critical to consume fluids and replenish electrolytes during prolonged exposure to hot environments (like running in the heat). It's also critical when you first start training in heat to go slow so the body can acclimate. Otherwise, you risk heat stroke and exhaustion. Consuming electrolyte drinks can help you stay cool, hydrated, and prevent potentially life-threatening heat stroke.

Being dehydrated can increase your chances of experiencing heat stroke in hot conditions,” says Lorencz. “Your blood volume can quickly decrease from fluid and electrolyte loss through sweating, so staying hydrated with water and electrolyte drinks could potentially save your life if you're working or playing in hot conditions.”

A Word From Verywell

Electrolyte drinks are excellent options for fueling up before exercise, staying hydrated, and replenishing electrolytes lost during a big workout. Several electrolytes—including sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and magnesium—are critical for many bodily functions and overall health.

The benefits of electrolyte drinks include improved athletic performance, rehydration during illness, better recovery, healthy cell function, and heat stroke prevention. However, consuming these beverages in excess, or having electrolyte drinks daily when you don’t have an imbalance, can negatively impact your health. As always, speak with a healthcare provider regarding any questions or concerns regarding electrolytes and hydration.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it OK to drink electrolytes every day?

    Consuming electrolyte drinks daily can be harmful if you don’t require electrolyte replenishment from physical activity, illness, or some other imbalance. Excessive intake of minerals (sodium in particular) can cause increase your risk for high blood pressure. Long-term uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to kidney damage.

    High sodium intake can also lead to kidney stones and a higher risk of heart disease and some cancers. Additionally, too much sodium (called hypernatremia) can cause dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • What are the symptoms of low electrolytes?

    Common symptoms of low electrolytes include neurological symptoms such as confusion, irritability, fatigue, and headaches. Other symptoms include gastrointestinal side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Being low in electrolytes can affect your muscles as well, causing muscle spasms, cramps, weakness, and irregular heartbeat.

  • How can I replace my electrolytes quickly?

    The rate at which you can replenish electrolytes depends on the activity you’re doing and how many electrolytes you’ve lost. You can resolve mild dehydration symptoms—including thirst, dark-colored urine, dry mouth, fatigue, and dizziness—within 45 minutes by consuming water along with sodium and other electrolytes. Electrolyte-infused beverages are one of the best ways to replenish your electrolytes. You may need carbohydrates included in the electrolyte blend if you are exercising longer than 60 to 90 minutes, especially if it is endurance training.

15 Sources
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