The Benefits Of Electrolytes And When To Have Them

You may have come across these bright coloured drinks in the store before that range from blue to green and every other colour in the rainbow. They all claim to help you with physical performance and recovery. You may have picked this drink up to help with muscle recovery after a workout or maybe you are getting over the flu or another health condition. The real question is, are electrolyte drinks beneficial and worth all of the hype?

Many dieticians whom I have spoken with and research papers I have read have all mentioned that there is a time and place for them, but they can be beneficial.

What Is An Electrolyte And When Should I Drink Them?

Electrolytes are natural minerals that are found within your body, and their job is to regulate and control the fluids within your body. The job of electrolytes is to keep your overall system functioning along with regulating blood pressure and muscle contractions. There are three big electrolytes in the body:

  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium

You need to have the right amount of electrolytes in your body to have optimal functioning and performance. You can actually make your own electrolyte drink at home, but more on that later.

You will need to consume electrolytes through diet when these minerals are diminished within your body due to intense exercising, sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Any amount of excessive fluid lost in your body at one time will call for consuming more electrolytes. The reason for this is your body at this point will be dehydrated, which in turn can cause muscle spasms and cramping to occur (this is usually one of the major signs in your body that you are dehydrated, next to extreme thirst).

How Do I Know If I Am Dehydrated?

Regardless if you know it or not, we have all been dehydrated at some point in our lives. There are many symptoms of dehydration such as dry lips and tongue, headaches, weakness, dizziness, nausea and cramps. However, the biggest teller of dehydration is thirst. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

Depending on how much intensity, fitness level, weight, humidity, duration of exercise and how much you sweat will vary how many electrolytes you lose during activity. The main electrolyte lost is sodium, even though sodium sometimes gets a bad rep, it is essential to help us retain fluids. Any type of sweating regardless of whether it is from exercise or from being sick, if you lose enough fluids you will become dehydrated.

An easy way to know how hydrated or dehydrated you are is by paying attention to your urine colour when you go to the bathroom. Also, paying attention to how many times you do have to go to the bathroom in the day. Chances are if you only have to pee 1-2 times a day, you’re not getting enough fluids in. A typical person that is staying hydrated will have to pee at least 6-7 times a day, but can range from 4-10 times as well depending on the person and if they have any other underlying health conditions that may be effecting their frequency to go to the bathroom.

What colour should my urine be?

As I mentioned, another way to know if you are hydrated enough is by paying attention to your urine colour. “Normal urine colour ranges from pale yellow to deep amber — the result of a pigment called urochrome and how diluted or concentrated the urine is. Pigments and other compounds in certain foods and medications can change your urine colour. Beets, berries and fava beans are among the foods most likely to affect the colour.”1 When you’re healthy and hydrated, your urine should fall somewhere between colourless and the colour of light straw and honey. When you don’t consume enough fluids, your urine becomes more concentrated and turns a darker yellow or amber colour.

Use this chart to refer to in order to have a better idea if you are hydrated or not:

Remember, we are not camels, we are meant to go to the bathroom multiple times a day to urinate. Some may find they “don’t have time” to go to the bathroom multiple times a day and so they purposely to not drink enough fluids. I think the benefits of staying hydrated throughout the day outweighs the “inconvenience” of having to go to the bathroom. You will stay focused, your skin will be more clear, and your body will overall function at its highest optimal level if you stay consistently hydrated throughout the day. Humans are mostly water at an average of 60% but can range up to 75% of our body. Why wouldn’t you want to stay hydrated with all of the benefits it brings us?

What Electrolyte Drink Should I Get?

There are all kinds of electrolyte drink options on the market nowadays. Ones that are in tablet form, powder form and ones that are already mixed into drinks that are ready to go. Which one you decide to go with is really all about preference and convenience. It’s nice to have the tablet and powder forms to take with you to the gym or on a hike when you don’t know for sure if you will need them or not, but you also don’t want to carry the extra weight of the liquid outside of regular water. However, if you are short on time and need electrolytes mixed for you in a liquid form, such as when you are travelling, then the premade drinks are for you!

A word of caution though, not all of the electrolyte drinks are made equal. Therefore, you must first decide if and how much you need. If you are working out for an hour or less, regular H2O will do and there is no need for a substitute. But if you are exercising for upwards of 75 min or more, especially on a particularly hot day, then a drink with electrolytes is a great idea to have during or after your workout.

Usually, a typical 8-ounce electrolyte drink has approximately 14 grams of sugar, 100 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium. You can even find drinks that are specifically for high endurance or ultra-endurance athletes with a higher amount of potassium and sodium along with other minerals like magnesium and calcium. Do keep in mind that these drinks are really high in sugar usually, so if you are going to be having multiple of them a day, try to choose the ones that are low-calorie or zero sugar. You should also look out for the drinks claiming any added immunity or high vitamin claims as they usually do not contain any electrolytes so they will not help with hydration in particular.

What’s The Deal With Coconut Water?

You may have heard that coconut water is a good substitute for regular sports drinks. This is partially true as coconut water does have a nutrient composition similar to traditional sports drinks, but they do differ in significant ways. The key nutrients for longer workouts are carbohydrates and sodium, however, regular or unsweetened coconut water has a fewer amount of these nutrients. Coconut water is an all-natural electrolyte drink alternative to your regular tap water, but it does have more calories and if it is sweetened it will have a much higher amount of sugar. The recommendation for athletes who are working out for a long period of time is to stick with the regular sports drinks as it will ensure proper hydration for maximum performance and recovery. But again, if you are drinking more than one of these drinks a day, I would opt for the low-sugar version of these drinks as they do contain a high amount of sugar. Always read your nutrition labels and research which drink is best for you.

How To Make A Homemade Electrolyte Drink

If you want to save yourself a lot of cash, you can make your own electrolyte drink at home with a few simple ingredients.

  • 1/2 cup orange juice (you can do freshly squeezed or orange juice from the store, but be sure it is 100% oranges, nothing added)
  • 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice (same as the point above straight from the produce itself or 100% the juice and nothing else)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 tbsp of honey or maple syrup (this all depends on how sweet you like it)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

By adding the orange juice and the lemon or lime juice, you will also be adding the extra minerals of magnesium and calcium along with potassium as well.

If You Are Looking For A Store Bought Electrolyte Recommendation…

I would suggest the Organika Electroylytes And Enhanced Collagen. I am not suggesting this company because I am an affiliate, but because I know it works. This powder has the three main electrolyte ingredients you need to rehydrate – magnesium 60mg, potassium 175mg and sodium 440mg. It also has the added benefit of collagen, which contains protein, and you need protein to help with muscle recovery after activity. On the added benefit, it conains no sugar!

On a nutrition stand point this powder is great to rehydrate you with all of it’s electrolyte properties, but it is not a nutritional supplement for after a workout. It is low in carbohydrates and has 5g of protein, after a workout you will need at least 10-20g of protein depending on your body weight. So if you are looking for a great electrolyte drink, this is may be the one for you! And remember as mentioned above, you only need electrolytes on a really hot day, if you have been sweating a lot, after the flu, or with 75 min+ amount of physical activity.

I recently just had a glutening experience at a restaurant and because I am celiac this threw my immune system through a loop. Usually after an exposure like this, all we can do is stay hydrated and let it run its course. I have been drinking this supplement to help with recovery as I had extreme sharp pain and muscle contractions in my gut, and as mentioned above electrolytes help in rehydration. But I find with it’s added benefit of collagen, this may help with gut repair as collagen has been shown to help with gut healing.

If you are wanting to give it a try, I have a 25% off code! Click the link above and use LEWSLIFE25 at the checkout.

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References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urine-color/symptoms-causes/syc-20367333