Have you ever spent the day outside, working up a sweat, only to find that water is not enough to make you feel better? You were probably experiencing an electrolyte imbalance and needed to replenish your electrolytes. So what exactly are electrolytes? Let’s discuss this a little further.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals that our bodies need to function properly. They include sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. They help regulate blood pH, allow for muscle contractions, transmit messages from our heart, muscles, and nerves throughout the body, and help create new tissues.
If you’ve ever tasted sweat, then you know it tastes salty. This is because sweat consists of mostly water and some salt. When you sweat for long periods of time or due to extreme heat, you’re likely losing lots of electrolytes along with lots of water. If this is happening to you, then it would be wise to replenish those electrolytes to help maintain your energy levels. Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include cramps, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, and headaches, to name a few.
What should I look for in an electrolyte?
Not all electrolytes on the market are the same. Some of the bigger, more well-known brands include sports drinks such as Gatorade, Pedialyte, and Liquid I.V. When shopping for an electrolyte, you want to make sure to look for the key ingredients of sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium.
To get the quickest absorption possible from an electrolyte replacement drink, look for one with sugar. Sugar acts as a cotransporter for sodium, causing it to be absorbed more quickly in the body. With sugar being a co-transporter for sodium, the high sodium content from an electrolyte also causes the sugar to be absorbed quickly by the body, meaning it can lead to blood sugar spikes.
If you are looking to avoid a blood sugar spike, then you may want to avoid electrolyte products with high sugar content. (For example, regular Gatorade has about 29 grams of sugar per 16 oz while a Liquid I.V. packet to be mixed with 16 oz water has 11 grams of sugar.) Some sugar is okay as it will optimize your electrolyte absorption; we just want to avoid large amounts of it.
Coconut water is a more natural way of getting some electrolytes, although it is higher in sugar than other products on the market. It does contain potassium, sodium, and small amounts of sugar.
Can I take electrolytes without sugar?
Electrolyte replacement products with zero sugar can help replenish electrolytes, but the mechanism by which they are absorbed may not be as fast as those containing sugar. The research is still limited on how well these products work.
There are quite a few electrolyte products on the market – both with and without sugar. Liquid I.V. is a great option to replenish electrolytes, plus it contains various B vitamins that help with energy levels. It does, however, contain 11 grams of sugar per serving. A lower sugar alternative to this product is the brand hydrant. This electrolyte replacer contains 3–4 grams of added sugar per serving to help with electrolyte absorption.
Some sugar-free electrolyte options would include the brands LMNT and Goodonya. Again, the research so far is limited as to how well these sugar-free products are absorbed to help replenish electrolytes, but if you find that they work for you, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that!
When should I take electrolytes?
You’ll likely feel the effects of an electrolyte imbalance after a while in the hot sun or after doing exercise for long periods of time. Typically, if you are planning on spending a lot of time in the heat, it is best to be prepared with some electrolytes. The same goes for long periods of exercise. Try to drink an electrolyte replacement during the activity instead of after to replenish those electrolytes you’re losing before you start to feel the effects of them being depleted.
Next time you’ve done a lot of exercise or spent a lot of time in the heat, think about your electrolytes, especially as the summer heat continues to climb.