5 Things You Need to Know About Electrolyte Drinks, According to Dietitians

woman drinking an electrolyte drink

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Intense exercise sessions, spending time out in the sun, excessive sweating, or getting sick—any of these could cause your body to require an electrolyte drink replenishment. Electrolytes—which are a mix of necessary minerals—are found in your blood, sweat, and urine, and they help keep your organs functioning. A lack of them can lead to serious health consequences. Here's what several registered dietitians indicate you should know about the importance of electrolytes and why this mix of minerals is necessary for good health.

Electrolytes Are Essential Minerals

Electrolyte drinks contain a combination of the following minerals including sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. Your body can’t produce these minerals on its own. They must come from a food source and are often consumed through beverages.

When you exercise or sweat, your body loses these important minerals and you need to replenish them. They support your body on a cellular level in maintaining fluid balance and proper organ function, says Kayley Myers, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian.

An Electrolyte Imbalance May Cause Health Issues 

You could experience a range of negative outcomes with an electrolyte imbalance. The most common sign of having too few electrolytes is muscle cramping. This is because electrolytes conduct electrical charges, and this is how your muscles contract.

Other issues associated with too few electrolytes include decreased athletic performance and cognitive function, says Christian Jax, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT, RYT, a registered dietitian and Lifesum advisor. You also might experience irregular heartbeats, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting, she says.

To keep your hydration levels balanced, drink approximately 2 cups of fluids before physical activity, 4 to 6 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity, and after you finish your workout to quench any thirst. How much you need post-workout depends on your workout's intensity level.

You Can Make Your Own Sports Drink

One of the easiest ways to replace lost electrolytes is by drinking them, as your body can often digest liquids easier after a tough workout. You can purchase pre-made sports drinks at grocery stores or create your own electrolyte drink at home.

A favorite post-run do-it-yourself sports drink that I make includes 1/3 cup prune juice, 1/4 cup pomegranate juice, 1/3 cup coconut water or orange juice, and a pinch or two of salt,” says Angie Asche, MS, RD, CSSD, sports dietitian and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition.

Asche says these ingredients provide electrolytes, including sodium chloride, potassium, carbohydrates, and fluids all in one. If you opt to purchase sports drinks, Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, a registered dietitian with Soylent, recommends choosing low-sugar options unless you are engaging in intense physical activity or long exercise sessions.

For drinks with a low-sugar content, be sure to read labels. Watch for ingredients like sucrose, dextrose, and corn syrups, which indicate that the drink contains added sugars.

Other Electrolyte Drink Sources

Jax indicates that you can get electrolytes from other sources such as:

  • Coconut water, which provides natural sugar as opposed to added sugar
  • Salt-containing broths, such as bone broth
  • Watermelon and strawberries blended into a smoothie
  • Tomatoes if you want a whole food instead of a beverage

You Do Not Always Need Electrolyte Drinks

You can skip electrolyte drinks and stick to plain water for hydration, depending on your physical activity levels. If exercise for more than 2 hours or engage in an intense workout, you should drink a beverage containing electrolytes, which helps replace the minerals lost when you sweat. But, if you only went for a 30-minute walk, you might not need an electrolyte drink.

“Most people don’t need electrolyte drinks for low- to moderate-intensity exercise," says Gariglio-Clelland. "But they are useful for certain endurance activities and exercising during hot, humid conditions when electrolyte losses through sweat are greater."

In addition, people who sweat excessively need more sodium in their electrolyte intake says Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND, a registered dietitian. Some people are salty sweaters and can lose up to 1,000 milligrams of sodium per two pounds of sweat loss. Heavy sweaters should look for an electrolyte beverages that have around 200 to 300 milligrams of sodium, she says.

"Sodium plays a bigger role in muscle cramping and hydration than potassium," Magill says.

Signs of Dehydration

A few signs of dehydration in adults include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Urinating and sweating less than usual
  • Dry skin
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue

More Is Not Always Better

The kidneys maintain the level of water and electrolytes in the body, says Catherine Gervacio, RD, a registered dietitian. If you choose to add electrolyte beverages to your diet, you should do so with caution.

Overall, the kidneys actually do a good job maintaining your body's fluid levels, electrolytes, and acid-base balance. But it can be taxing on the kidneys if you consume electrolyte drinks in excess. Instead, you may want to opt for some electrolyte-rich foods instead.

The kidneys can naturally regulate electrolyte imbalance by pulling needed electrolytes into your bloodstream through the foods you eat. And, if your body has too much of a particular mineral (such as potassium), the kidneys will release the extra mineral and it will be excreted as waste.

Electrolyte-Rich Foods

For mineral-rich foods that provide electrolytes outside of electrolyte beverages, these whole food options are from a study published in the journal Nutrients:

  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • Leeks
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Soybeans
  • Chickpeas
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain bread

A Word From Verywell

Electrolytes are necessary for your organs to function properly. For this reason, you should incorporate them into your nutrition strategy during and after intense workouts. They also can be useful when you are in a hot climate, at a high altitude, or are sick.

If you are unsure how to replace lost electrolytes or whether you need to drink a sports drink after exercise, talk with a registered dietitian or another healthcare provider for advice. They can help you figure out how much you need based on your current physical activity and food intake.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the nutritional benefits of electrolyte drinks?

    Electrolyte drinks aid in hydration and support your cells and organs by maintaining fluid balance. The minerals in electrolyte drinks also aid in proper functioning of the nerves, muscles, and heart.

  • What does the USDA say about electrolyte drinks?

    The United States Department of Agriculture says to be aware of sugar-laden drinks, such as sports drinks. Added sugars are often included in the processing of foods, such as sucrose or dextrose. This can lead to health problems, including weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

  • What helps electrolyte absorption?

    Intake of the right food and drink are how people absorb electrolytes. To help electrolyte absorption, water consumption can move electrolytes along in the bloodstream. This can come from drinking plain water, electrolyte-enhanced drinks, or eating foods with a high-water content.

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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  2. Liska D, Mah E, Brisbois T, Barrios PL, Baker LB, Spriet LL. Narrative review of hydration and selected health outcomes in the general populationNutrients. 2019;11(1):70. doi:10.3390/nu11010070

  3. ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal. Exercise and fluid replacement.

  4. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Dehydration.

  5. Michael Garron Hospital Toronto East Hospital. Exploring the role and function of the kidneys.

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  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rethink your drink.

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."