The Best Form of Electrolytes, According to Experts

woman debating between water and electrolytes

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Electrolytes within your body maintain your fluid balance and without them, you risk dehydration or experiencing a life-threatening event. While fluid losses occur naturally throughout the day, they will fluctuate even more if you are extremely active, are sweating a lot, or you're sick and experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.

"Electrolytes conduct electricity, and are necessary for nerve and muscle function, as well as fluid balance," says Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, a sports dietitian. "When you do not consume enough electrolytes, you may experience muscle cramps, or in a worst-case scenario, low blood sodium which can be very dangerous."

Fortunately, there are ways to replenish electrolytes quickly, and which form you choose—powders, drinks, supplements, and food with electrolytes—largely depends on your goals or situation.

"Most electrolyte products will offer benefits including improved exercise and sport performance, heat stroke prevention, rehydration during recovery or illness, and nervous system support," says Michelle Caslin, RDN, CSSD. "What will set an electrolyte apart from the competition is the amount of additional ingredients besides electrolytes (sugar, additives, etc.) and the amount of each electrolyte (particularly sodium."

The best form of electrolytes contain a ratio of sodium, potassium, and glucose that deliver water to the cells faster. Choosing one that works with your preferences and lifestyle can make a world of difference. Here's what you need to know about choosing the best form of electrolytes for you.

Electrolyte Powders

Electrolyte powder is the powdered form of electrolytes. Typically, it contains sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. Some electrolyte powders also contain carbohydrates and added vitamins.

To supplement with electrolyte powder, mix them with water and consume. Most people use electrolyte powders before, during, or after taking part in exercise or sports. But, it is always best to talk to a healthcare provider to determine whether electrolyte powders are right for you.


One of the benefits of using electrolyte powders over other forms is that powders allow you to control how much you use says Spano. "You can easily use more or less powder as needed."

It's convenient to use electrolyte powders and they're easily customizable. You can mix them into a smoothie, juice, or anything you prefer. Plus, they are ultra hydrating.

"Since you mix them in water, you're hydrating while you're getting your electrolytes," Spano says.


Though electrolyte powders taste good and improve hydration, more is not always better. If you're using electrolyte powders because it helps you drink more water, you could risk overdoing it.

Regardless of the form of electrolyte supplement, you should only use them when necessary such as replenishing your electrolyte needs after strenuous exercise, excessive sweating, or while ill from vomiting or diarrhea. Using them for reasons other than that, could pose a problem. Most people don't need an electrolyte supplement, especially if they're eating a balanced diet.

The recommended intake of sodium per day is 2,300 mg. The average electrolyte powder contains 335mg of sodium per serving. If you're drinking this all day on top of your usual diet, which naturally contains sodium, you could be getting too much.

Electrolyte powders also are not a convenient option as you need to bring the powder with you, a water source, and a bottle to mix it in. For some, this could pose a problem, especially if you need a quick dose of electrolytes to fuel a long run or when feeling ill.

Electrolyte Drinks

Electrolyte drinks are read-to-drink beverages that contain a balanced ratio of electrolytes, water, and often a carbohydrate source like sugar. Electrolyte drinks aren't limited to sports drinks or those manufactured by beverage companies, though. Coconut water, maple water, and bone broth naturally contain electrolytes that work well for rehydration.


If you're someone who prefers ultimate convenience, a ready-to-drink electrolyte beverage would work well for you. Electrolyte drinks are available at most local gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, big box stores, and online. They also come in a variety of flavors including sugar-free versions.

"These drinks provide both hydration and electrolytes at the same time," says Spano. "No shaking, mixing, or thought unless you need more sodium than what is found in a typical sports drink."


Plain water and a balanced diet are ideal for maintaining fluid balance, unless you live somewhere with extreme heat, are an elite athlete, or are suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, or other illnesses that put you at risk for dehydration.

Consuming electrolyte drinks that contain sugar excessively without necessity will increase your daily caloric intake above what your body needs. The extra sugar can also lead to calories and can even be a problem for someone who needs to limit their sugar intake.

Electrolyte Supplements

Electrolyte supplements include gummies, tablets, or gels. They generally contain a sufficient ratio of electrolytes, some sugar, and sometimes caffeine.


Electrolyte supplements are the most convenient way to manage electrolyte levels. Not only are they portable but they're easily consumed during a bout of exercise.

"They also require no fluid, which can be of benefit if you find it difficult to drink a lot while exercising," notes Spano.


While electrolyte supplements are highly convenient, they're not the best choice for rehydrating, especially since there's no fluid.

"Gummies and tablets typically do not provide enough electrolytes for those who lost a significant amount of sodium in their sweat," Spano says.

Foods with Electrolytes

The average person will get enough electrolytes from the food they eat. Most foods naturally contain any number of combinations of electrolyte minerals and they do a great job of maintaining electrolyte homeostasis.

Some major food sources of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous include dairy, eggs, fruits, vegetables, bread, grains, potatoes, meat, fish, nuts and seeds, condiments, and nonalcoholic beverages.


Most people do a good job at maintaining electrolyte balance via their regular diet. Food is naturally satiating and readily available. Not to mention, research suggests solid food is more filling and satisfying than liquid calories.

You're also less likely to over-consume electrolytes with solid food as compared to electrolyte drinks or supplements. That's because solid foods provide greater feelings of fullness and satiety.

"Food is a great option post-exercise," says Spano. "If you're exercising at a high intensity, it's difficult to eat much during exercise. However, for anyone who has a significant break in between training or competition, food may be a good option. Or if you exercise at a low intensity, food may be an option."


On the other hand, if you're ill, you may not have an appetite, ability, or desire to eat solid foods. For that reason, a supplement that is more palatable or in a liquid form may be easier (and faster) for you to consume.

Food also is not the most convenient choice while exercising. Plus, many foods that contain electrolytes are also high in fiber and FODMAPs, which can cause GI distress and IBS symptoms including gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation—all of which are not ideal during exercise or when you're not feeling well.

How to Choose the Best One

The best form of electrolytes is one that works well with your needs, preferences, and lifestyle. Once you pinpoint the best form for you—powder, drinks, supplements, or food—you can then choose one that meets the mark nutrition-wise.

Caslin suggests reading nutrition labels to find products that meet your specific needs and limit unnecessary ingredients like fillers, preservatives, artificial colors, synthetic chemicals, and additives.

"An ideal electrolyte is not hard to find if you know what to look for," she says. "It should have minimal ingredients and contain a balanced ratio of essential electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium)."

According to Spano, sodium is the most important electrolyte lost in sweat and therefore the one that should be found in the greatest quantity in an electrolyte product. "Added vitamins are not necessary as there is no research to suggest we need to consume vitamins during exercise."

There is evidence, though, that electrolyte products containing carbohydrate increase fluid retention and hydration over water or electrolytes alone. Electrolyte products containing carbohydrates or sugar can be beneficial for balancing blood sugar and increasing calorie intake when needed, Caslin says.

"The amount of electrolytes a person needs depends on what they are using it for," she adds. "An everyday athlete will likely need less than a professional athlete or someone working in extreme heat."

For that reason, avoid using electrolyte products multiple times throughout the day unless necessary. If you have questions about your electrolyte needs, talk to a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

The best form of electrolytes is ultimately based on your own needs, lifestyle, and preferences. Most people get adequate electrolytes from their diet, however, some people would benefit from supplementation, especially if they exercise for long periods of time or are ill.

Talk to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian if you're considering taking an electrolyte supplement. They can help you determine the ideal product and dosage for you and your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best form of electrolyte replacement?

    The best form of electrolyte replacement is food first. However, if you are looking for a quick hydration and electrolyte boost, you would benefit from using an electrolyte supplement. Drinks and powders offer greater electrolyte and hydration benefit over gels, tablets, and gummies, because they contain more electrolytes and water for hydration.

  • What should you look for when buying electrolytes?

    When buying electrolytes, choose a product that contains all electrolyte minerals including sodium (at the greatest amount), potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. You may also need carbohydrates or sugar in your electrolyte product to improve hydration more rapidly depending upon your needs.

  • Can I use electrolytes every day?

    You can use electrolytes every day, but most people do not need them and can get electrolytes from food, especially if they are not engaging in demanding exercise or spending a lot of time in the heat. For hydration, you can drink plain water too. You want to limit the amount of electrolyte drinks you consume so that you are not consuming more sodium than your body needs or upsetting your fluid balance.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a sports and pediatric dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." Shoshana received her B.S in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University. She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine,, and more.