Do I Really Need Electrolyte Drinks?

Woman lacing up running shoes

Getty Images / Natalia Semenova

Maintaining healthy recovery habits after a workout is necessary for progressing your fitness goals. One key aspect of helping your body recover is replenishing electrolytes.

During and after a significant exercise session that results in heavy sweating, you often lose a high number of electrolytes that help keep your bodily fluids in balance. This often causes an electrolyte imbalance that, if left untreated, could lead to a dizzying number of consequences—from a headache to hyponatremia to a serious life-threatening complication that sends you straight to the hospital. These imbalances can get severe enough that they are associated with mortality and morbidity.

Knowing how to gauge your electrolyte intake and ensuring you replenish necessary fluids lost is key to keeping your body hydrated, especially during endurance training. This can be the difference between crossing the finish line of a race or ending up at the medical tent.   

What are Electrolytes? 

Electrolytes are essential components of proper hydration, as keeping yourself in fluid neutrality allows your cells, nerves, and muscles to work, generate, and repair themselves.

You can consume electrolytes in sports drinks, shakes, and supplements. The most popular electrolyte option on the market today is sports drinks; in 2019, the retail dollar sales of sports drinks in the United States was 10.1 billion dollars. Electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks are non-carbonated beverages available in a variety of flavors and colors, and almost all contain varying amounts of minerals, sugar, and salt.

The major components of electrolytes are as follows:


As one of the most vital electrolytes, sodium maintains bodily fluid volume and regulates the membrane potential of cells. A lack of sodium can cause headaches, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. 


This mineral regulates homeostasis (keeping your body in a steady state of equilibrium). A potassium disorder could lead to cardiac arrhythmias; a potassium imbalance can cause muscle cramps, weakness, and rhabdomyolysis (a condition caused by muscle breakdowns).  


One of the body's major minerals, chloride is important in exercise for the proper contraction of muscles and transmission of nerve impulses. Without the required amount in your body, you could experience blood clotting and secretion of hormones.  


Crucial to your body's function, magnesium is involved in metabolism, contraction, and relaxation of muscles, and brain function. A lack of this mineral can lead to gastrointestinal and renal losses.  

What Does the Research Say? 

Researchers state that electrolytes are necessary for even the most basic of life functioning. Electrolytes work to maintain electrical neutrality in cells and generate movement in nerves and muscles. A loss of electrolytes can lead to life-threatening complications.

The most important compounds in electrolytes that you should look for in sports drinks and foods are potassium, sodium, and chloride.

How to Incorporate Electrolyte Drinks Naturally Into Your Diet

You can easily incorporate electrolyte drinks into your diet. This is especially important if you exercise often or sweat heavily. Options for you to consider include the following:

Sip a Sports Drink During Exercise

When you are exercising, especially during endurance workouts, hydrating with a sports drink or mixing a powder form of electrolytes into plain water can help you keep your bodily fluids regulated. Try alternating a sports drink with plain water, drinking seven to 10 ounces every 20 minutes.

Add Coconut Water to Your Morning Routine

When you wake up, try consuming eight ounces of coconut water first thing in the morning. This starts your day off with a tasty, nutritious treat and hydrates your muscles after a long period of resting them while sleeping. Minerals in coconut water include necessary electrolytes, such as potassium (16% of adequate intake for women and 12% for men), as well as magnesium and calcium.

Opt for Whole Foods

According to a 2020 study published in Nutrients, you can also consume electrolytes by eating whole foods. Especially for endurance athletes, eating your electrolytes is important because the researchers found only one percent of their study population consumed the recommended values for all electrolytes. Options include vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grain breads, and sweet potatoes.

A Word From Verywell

Electrolytes are necessary for your body to properly function. Without them, you could experience a number of health issues, from headaches to muscle cramping to worst-case scenarios. If you exercise often, be sure to incorporate sports drinks or supplements with sodium, chloride, and potassium into your workout and recovery regime. For hydration questions, speaking with a health care professional can help you ensure you get enough electrolytes throughout the day.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it OK to drink electrolytes every day?

    You can drink electrolytes every day (or choose to consume a supplement instead). This is especially necessary if you exercise and/or sweat often. Electrolytes will help replace minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium, that are lost when you sweat or get sick. If you choose to consume a sports drink each day, be sure to read the ingredient label to find an option with little sugar. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you probably do not need to add electrolytes to your diet.

  • Can you drink too much water with electrolytes?

    You can drink too much water with electrolytes. If this happens, you could experience hyponatremia, which occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. When hyponatremic, your body holds on to water and this dilutes the sodium amount in the blood. To make sure you get proper amounts of hydration, daily intake should be around 15.5 cups of mixed fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups of mixed fluids a day for women.

  • What are the symptoms of electrolyte imbalance?

    Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include headaches, nausea, confusion, lethargy, vomiting, and cramping. The worst symptoms are seizures, renal failure, and loss of consciousness.

7 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 Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."