What Drinks Have Electrolytes?

Woman drinking sports beverage

Many sports beverages are touted for their high content of electrolytes. The idea goes, of course, that during strenuous exercise, the body loses electrolytes through sweat, necessitating their replacement via food or drinks. But electrolyte beverages are actually a much broader category than the brightly colored juice-like drinks that may spring to mind—and it’s not just athletes who can benefit from drinking them.

Ever wondered what electrolytes are—or when you may need them? Read on for the answers, plus a list of high-electrolyte drinks to choose from.

What Are Electrolytes?

We’ve probably all heard of electrolytes from sports beverage ads, but commercials don’t seem to do much to explain what they actually are. In short, electrolytes are minerals. If you want to get technical, they’re substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water.

Potassium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, calcium, and phosphorus are the six electrolytes humans require from our diets. These minerals support a healthy nervous system, regulate fluid balance, keep muscles contracting, and stabilize the body’s pH balance.

We lose electrolytes regularly through sweat, urine, and feces (and most unpleasantly, through vomit). A serious lack of electrolytes can lead to adverse symptoms like labored breathing, fever, confusion, nausea, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

Who Needs Electrolyte Drinks?

Despite the marketing that says you need to replace lost electrolytes after exercise, most people can maintain adequate levels through a normal, healthy diet. And water will usually do just fine as a rehydration beverage.

People Working Out For 60 minutes or Longer or in Hot and Humid Weather

Still, electrolyte beverages can have their place during and after your workout. If you’re engaging in hard exercise for a long stretch, such as an hour or longer, especially in hot or humid weather, you may want to reach for a bottle of something electrolyte-rich. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming a glucose and electrolyte solution when exercise lasts more than one hour, especially if the total duration extends beyond 90 minutes.

People Exercising at High Altitudes

Exercise at high altitudes may also make you particularly susceptible to electrolyte losses. And if you experience muscle cramps, nausea, or fatigue after a tough sweat session, try an electrolyte drink. It may help alleviate these symptoms.

People With Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, or Excessive Fluid Loss

Since electrolytes are not only lost through sweat, but feces, diarrhea is another common cause of deficiency. Replenishing your stores with an electrolyte beverage during a bout of gastrointestinal illness can certainly be a smart idea (along with water, of course).

Pregnant Women or Those on a Specific Diet

Others who may need to be more mindful of electrolyte intake include pregnant women and those on the keto diet. Though it's a normal pregnancy symptom, frequent urination can lead to a more rapid loss of electrolytes. Similarly, since a ketogenic diet stimulates the liver to release glycogen, which is stored with water, you may find yourself using the bathroom a lot more frequently on this eating plan. Consequently, you may need to replace lost electrolytes.

What to Look for in an Electrolyte Drink

Familiar, colorful sports beverages may contain essential minerals, but they often contain a lot of sugar. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar. It’s true that, as a simple carbohydrate, sugar can fuel your workouts. But regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a host of health issues, and extra sugar probably isn’t necessary as fuel for moderate exercise. When choosing a drink to replace your losses, look for one that has minimal added sugar. And, unless advised by your doctor, keep electrolyte drinks to an occasional, not everyday part of your diet.

When shopping for an electrolyte drink, you may want to consider the following:

  • A mix of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium)
  • Low in sugar (and no artificial sugars), unless necessary for refueling mid-workout
  • Free of artificial colors
  • Convenience (pre-mixed, tablet, powder, or natural juice/water)

Types of Electrolyte Drinks

Since the term “electrolytes” encompasses multiple minerals, numerous beverages fall under the electrolyte drink umbrella. Here are several drinks that include these minerals.

Sports Beverages

Sports drinks are the beverages that made electrolytes famous. In their ripple-shaped bottles, these drinks serve up various minerals you may lose through sweat during exercise. Gatorade, for example, boasts sodium and potassium, while Powerade contains sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. As mentioned, these drinks are often high in sugar, so it’s best to consider them a once-in-awhile fuel source rather than a go-to after every workout (unless the workout conditions or intensity require extra sugar and minerals).

Tablets and Powders

These days, it’s quite simple to mix up your own electrolyte drink while out on the trail or tennis court. Dissolvable tablets and powders are available to pop into a water bottle for a boost of essential minerals. If you’d like the freedom to make the spur-of-the-moment choice between water or an electrolyte drink while working out, these make a convenient choice. Many are made with zero sugars and are tailored to suit special diets like keto or low-carb.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is more than trendy—it’s a natural electrolyte drink. It's high in sodium and potassium and also contains smaller amounts of calcium and magnesium. If you like its unique flavor, it’s an excellent way to take in minerals in a low-calorie, low-sugar package. Eight ounces of coconut water contains just 46 calories and 6 grams of sugar.

Pediatric Electrolyte Beverages

When your kiddo has been vomiting for hours (or days), it’s only natural to want to get nutrients back in their system via a pediatric electrolyte beverage. And while it's not strictly necessary to opt for a child-specific electrolyte beverage like Pedialyte (as opposed to other electrolyte drinks), these pediatric drinks do offer some advantages. Pedialyte contains several minerals in one package: sodium, potassium, zinc, and chloride—whereas some other electrolyte drinks only provide one or two. Fruity flavors also appeal to a younger audience.

On the downside, most flavors of Pedialyte contain artificial flavors and colors. If you’d like to eliminate these from your child’s diet, look for brands with all-natural ingredients, such as Earth’s Best or Kinderlyte.

Milk

Most people probably don’t reach for a glass of milk as a thirst-quencher post-workout, but this dairy beverage is a surprising source of electrolytes. Cow’s milk is well known for being rich in calcium, and also contains phosphorus and potassium. Even if milk isn’t your personal favorite as an adult, it can an especially useful choice for replenishing electrolyte losses in children.  

Fruit Juices

Fruit juices taste great and can also pack significant amounts of electrolytes too. Not all juices are rich in minerals, but some, like orange, tart cherry, and watermelon juice, contain significant levels of magnesium, potassium, and/or phosphorus. Many orange juices are also fortified with calcium. Plus, each of these fruit juice comes with its own blend of health-promoting antioxidants. However, like sports beverages, most juices are high in sugar. Look for 100% fruit juice and keep portions moderate, such as 8 ounces or less.

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