Electrolyte powder and drinks are becoming increasingly more popular each year, particularly among endurance athletes. But, are they worth it for outdoor activities?
If you love to go out on long trail runs or extended hikes in hot, humid climates, then electrolyte powder might be worth it for your adventures. But, there are many different ways to replenish your body’s essential mineral levels that might be better for your preferred type of outdoor activity.
Coming up, we’ll break down all of the science behind electrolyte powder to help you decide if they’re right for you. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these drinks and even give you some advice on the best options for your next adventure.
What Is Electrolyte Powder?
Electrolyte powder is a dietary supplement that can be added to water to increase the levels of certain minerals in the body. More specifically, these powders replenish your body’s levels of electrolytes during periods of high exercise.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are a type of mineral found naturally in the body and they include sodium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, and potassium, among others. These minerals are important for a wide range of bodily functions and are essential for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems.
Each electrolyte has a specific purpose in the body that we can’t live without. This includes:
- Sodium. Sodium helps to manage the amount of water in the body. It also helps support healthy muscle and nerve function. Plus, sodium regulates our fluid retention to help prevent dehydration.
- Potassium. We can get potassium from fresh fruit and veggies. It’s essential for the functioning of our digestive system and a handful of major organs.
- Calcium. This mineral is essential for strong, healthy bones. As an electrolyte, it’s also important for regulating muscle contractions and supporting our heart health.
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps boost our immune and cardiovascular systems. It also plays a supporting role in our nerve and muscle function.
- Chloride. This mineral is found in table salt, seaweed, and rye, among other foods. Our bodies use chloride to help maintain our pH and fluid levels.
What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are so important to our bodies that if we don’t have enough of them, we can get quite sick. Our bodies naturally lose these minerals through sweating, vomiting, urinating, and defecating. But, if our electrolyte levels get too low, we can experience a wide range of negative signs and symptoms, such as:
- Muscle cramps
- Low energy and fatigue
- General malaise
- Changes in blood pressure
Additionally, if our bodies experience a severe electrolyte imbalance, serious medical complications, such as severe dehydration, coma, seizures, and cardiac arrest can occur.
Therefore, keeping your body’s electrolyte levels balanced is very important. But, this can be tricky to do when you’re exercising heavily as these minerals can get flushed out of the body through our sweat.
That’s where electrolyte powder comes into the picture. These dietary supplements can be added to your water to help maintain your body’s levels of essential minerals, like potassium, and magnesium as you exercise.
Is Electrolyte Powder Good For You?
Electrolyte powder is good for you – if you choose the right one. The main downside to commercially-available sports powders and drinks is that they tend to have a lot of added sugar.
Since eating too much sugar can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease and other negative health effects, it’s best consumed in moderation. Therefore, electrolyte drinks are only good for you if you choose one that’s low in sugar and other additives.
Benefits Of Electrolyte Powder
When consumed during periods of vigorous exercise, electrolyte powder can have a number of great benefits. These include:
- Regulating your blood pressure
- Reducing the likelihood of cramps
- Maintaining your blood acidity (pH)
- Replenishing the body’s fluid levels
- Rehydrating people during illnesses
- Preventing heatstroke
Is it OK To Drink Electrolytes Every Day?
While electrolytes are essential for a happy, healthy body, too much of them can be dangerous. It turns out that consuming too much of these minerals can cause some serious health issues, such as:
- Hypernatremia. If you consume too much sodium, this can lead to a condition known as hypernatremia. This condition can cause excessive thirst, a lack of energy, and confusion. If left untreated, hypernatremia can be life-threatening.
- Hyperkalemia. High levels of potassium in the body can lead to hyperkalemia, which can damage your kidneys. Also, it can cause nausea and heart arrhythmia.
- Hypercalcemia. Too much calcium in the body can cause hypercalcemia. Signs and symptoms of this condition include bone pain, lethargy, seizures, and fatigue.
- Hypermagnesemia. Hypermagnesemia, or a magnesium overdose, can happen if you consume too much of this mineral. When this happens, you can experience muscle weakness, nausea, low blood pressure, and cardiac arrest.
However, you have to consume a really large amount of these minerals to cause these problems. In reality, if you match your electrolyte drink intake with your exercise level, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any of these issues unless you have certain pre-existing conditions.
So, while it’s okay to drink electrolytes every day, you should only do so if you’re actually exercising a lot. In general, most people won’t benefit from sports drinks or other powders in their day-to-day-life.
Indeed, many experts, including the leading physicians for Harvard’s athletic teams, actually recommend that people only use sports drinks if they’re really active. According to Harvard’s doctors, if you’re only exercising for a few hours a day, then water is probably more than enough. If you’re running an ultramarathon on a really hot day, though, electrolyte powders are a good option.
Are There Any Side Effects Of Electrolytes?
Even though they’re important for our health, electrolytes do have some side effects when consumed in excessive quantities. These side-effects include:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle twitching
- Swelling of feet
- Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)
However, as we’ve mentioned, you have to consume quite a large amount of sports drinks to cause these issues if you don’t have any underlying health conditions. When in doubt, it’s best to speak to your physician to see if electrolyte powders are right for you.
How Do You Mix Electrolyte Powder?
Thankfully, electrolyte powders are quite easy to mix and prepare. While you can buy pre-made sports drinks in a bottle, it’s generally cheaper to buy powders and make them on your own.
To mix your own sports drinks, you simply need to follow the instructions on the product’s container. Most of these drinks will come with their own scooper that can be used to measure out the powder. Then, all you have to do is mix the right amount of powder for the quantity of water that you have. Some brands also have electrolyte powder which comes in sachets.
Keep in mind, though, that you usually shouldn’t mix electrolyte powders with anything but water. The product’s label will give you more information on what you should and should not do to prepare it properly.
What Is The Best Electrolyte Powder?
There are many different electrolyte powders, some of which are better for you than others. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid any products that are high in sugar or that contain chemicals and additives.
However, most powder-based sports drinks have between 10-20g of sugar per serving. So, if you choose to use powders, it’s a good idea to find one that’s on the lower end of the sugar spectrum. These include:
- Vitalyte Electrolyte Replacement Drink Mix
- Ultima Replenisher (A no sugar option, but it uses artificial sweeteners)
- Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier
- GU Energy Roctane
- Pride Naturals Mix
What Is The Best Drink To Replace Electrolytes?
While powders are a good solution for keeping the proper balance of electrolytes in your body, they’re not your only option. In fact, you can choose from a whole variety of different beverages and hydration solutions for your outdoor activities. Here are some of your options:
Nuun’s hydration tablets provide a solid dose of electrolytes without all of the sugar that you find in sports drink powders. They come in a very compact tube for transport, which means they’re easy to carry in your pack while you hike.
To use these when you’re outside, you just need to purify water from a river, lake, or stream and drop a tablet into your water bottle. After a few seconds, these tablets dissolve in water and can provide all the minerals you need to stay hydrated in the outdoors.
Coconut water became really popular a few years ago as a more natural alternative to sports drinks. Interestingly, coconut water actually has a nutritional composition that’s quite similar to sports drinks, but without all of the sugar and additives.
However, coconut also has less sodium than sports drinks. Since sodium is the number one mineral that we lose through sweat, it’s important that you replenish your body’s salt levels as you exercise. But, you can always get salt from food to make up for coconut water’s low sodium levels.
DIY Electrolyte Water
Thankfully, there’s an affordable way to make your own electrolyte water, all from the comfort of your own home. To make one cup (237ml) of this DIY lemon-lime flavor sports drink, you can combine the following:
- 1/4 tsp (1.25ml) salt
- 1/4 cup (60ml) lime juice
- 2 cups (480ml) cold water
- 1 1/2 cups (360ml) coconut water
- 1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
As you can see, this recipe uses coconut water, which, as we mentioned, is rich in electrolytes. But, this recipe also adds some lemon and lime juice for flavor and adds a pinch of salt to make up for coconut water’s lack of sodium.
How Can I Get Electrolytes Naturally?
Not sure that sports drinks and powders are right for you? Well, then we’ve got some good news: You can easily get all the electrolytes you need naturally from your food. Most fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats contain the minerals that our body needs to function properly.
If you’re looking to increase your electrolyte intake, consider adding the following foods to your diet:
- Potassium: Spinach, plain yogurt, sweet potato, bananas, peas, oranges, prunes, melons, raisins, beans, oranges, tomatoes
- Chloride: Seaweed, rye bread, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, celery
- Magnesium: Kale, turnip greens, spinach, collard greens, whole grains, peanut butter, dried beans, lentils, nuts
- Calcium: Dairy products, fish with bones (e.g. sardines), beans, asparagus, dried apricots, collard greens, figs, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals
Supplementing your diet with these foods is a great way to keep your body performing at its best as you exercise. However, you’ll notice that we didn’t list off different foods that you can eat to increase your sodium intake.
This is because a lot of people consume way more sodium than they need each day. The FDA actually states that Americans consume upwards of 50% more salt than is recommended. In general, most of us should actually reduce our daily salt intake, not supplement it.
Is It Better To Drink Water With Electrolytes?
Yes, it’s best to drink water with your electrolytes. Indeed, most sports drinks powders should only be mixed with water, so you should be drinking lots of fluids in addition to these essential minerals.
Additionally, if you choose to use energy blocks or squeezable gels instead of powders to replenish your electrolytes, you need to be sure that you consume a whole lot of water with each serving. According to the registered dietitians at ProActive Nutrition, athletes should consume between 8-14 ounces with each serving of energy gels or sports chews to help their body metabolize the minerals.
Is Electrolyte Powder Worth It?
If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and tasty way to stay hydrated outside, electrolyte powder is a good option. These powders are worth it for long-distance runners and other endurance athletes that sweat a lot during their extended workouts. But, unless you’re spending a lot of time vigorously exercising in hot, humid environments, you can probably get by with just water.
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