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Electrolyte water

Benefits and myths

Electrolytes are important for bodily functions like fluid balance and muscle contractions. Electrolyte-enhanced water is often misunderstood, but this article explores its benefits and dispels common myths.

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Electrolyte water: Benefits and myths
Last updated on December 18, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 28, 2023.

Electrolyte waters are fortified with ionized minerals that can boost your physical performance during workouts or help rehydrate you when you’re unwell, among other advantages.

Electrolyte water: Benefits and myths

Your regular tap or bottled water probably has some trace electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium already in it.

However, the level of these electrolytes can differ widely between different beverages. Some brands load up their drinks with a hefty dose of minerals and carbs and market them as sports drinks. Others might only add a small amount just for flavor enhancement.

This article delves into the potential upsides of drinking water enhanced with electrolytes, as well as debunking some common misconceptions about it.

In this article

What is electrolyte water? {what-it-is}

Electrolytes are minerals that become electrically charged when mixed with water.

These are spread throughout your body’s fluids and use their electrical charge to help key bodily processes run smoothly.

Essential functions of electrolytes include:

Common electrolytes found in water include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The levels of these charged minerals in electrolyte waters can differ quite a bit.

Unless your bottled water says “distilled,” it probably has some electrolytes in it, often added in trace amounts for better taste.

Tap water also contains electrolytes. Typically, a liter (about 34 ounces) of tap water has around 2–3% of the daily recommended intake for sodium, calcium, and magnesium, but usually lacks significant potassium.

In comparison, the same quantity of well-known electrolyte-boosted sports drinks can contain up to 18% of the daily recommended sodium and 3% of the daily recommended potassium but often has little to no magnesium or calcium.

Summary: Charged minerals called electrolytes are crucial for optimal bodily functions. Electrolyte beverages such as enhanced waters and sports drinks are common sources.

Electrolyte water may improve exercise performance

Electrolyte-enhanced waters, particularly sports drinks, may benefit athletes by helping replenish water, electrolytes, and energy lost during exercise.

8 healthy drinks rich in electrolytes
Suggested read: 8 healthy drinks rich in electrolytes

You need additional fluids during physical activity to replace the water lost in sweat. In fact, a water loss of as little as 1–2% of your body weight can lead to decreased strength, speed, and focus.

Sweat also contains electrolytes, including a significant amount of sodium and small amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. On average, you lose around 1 gram of sodium with every liter of sweat.

Sports drinks are recommended over plain water to replace fluid and electrolytes if you sweat a lot, and exercise longer than one hour or in hot environments.

You should note that sports drinks are designed for athletes, not sedentary individuals. Along with electrolytes, they contain calories from added sugar. In fact, a 20-ounce (591-ml) bottle of Gatorade packs a whopping 30 grams of sugar.

Summary: Sports drinks are designed for athletes and contain electrolytes and carbs to replenish the nutrients lost through sweating. They’re recommended for prolonged exercise and exercise in hot weather.

Electrolyte water can rehydrate during illness

In the short term, vomiting and diarrhea are usually not serious conditions. However, severe or persistent symptoms can quickly lead to dehydration if fluids and electrolytes are not replaced.

Infants and children are especially vulnerable to dehydration from severe vomiting and diarrhea. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using an oral rehydration solution at the first signs of illness to prevent dehydration.

Suggested read: Electrolytes: Definition, functions, imbalance and sources

Oral rehydration solutions contain water, carbs, and electrolytes in specific proportions that are easy to digest. A popular example is Pedialyte.

Sports drinks are similar to other drinks but contain more sugar. Infants and young children should not consume them as it can worsen diarrhea.

Older children may tolerate sports drinks if diluted to 1 part water or 1 part sports drink. Adults typically tolerate both oral rehydration solutions and sports drinks without issues.

Importantly, electrolyte beverages may not be sufficient for treating severe dehydration. If diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours or you are unable to keep fluids down, seek medical advice.

Summary: Illnesses, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can cause you to lose fluid and electrolytes rapidly. Oral rehydration solutions are recommended for replenishment.

Electrolyte water can help prevent heat stroke

Hot environments put you at risk for various heat-related illnesses, ranging from mild heat rash to life-threatening heatstroke.

Usually, your body manages heat by releasing it through your skin and sweating. However, this cooling system may begin to fail in hot weather, causing your body temperature to rise to dangerously high levels.

Limiting your time in the heat is the key to preventing heat-related illnesses. However, getting plenty of fluid and electrolytes is also extremely important to help your body stay cool.

Water and sports drinks are recommended for hydration in hot environments over other beverages. Drinks containing caffeine, such as soda, coffee, and tea, may worsen dehydration, as can alcohol.

Summary: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures increases the risk of heatstroke. It is recommended to consume sufficient amounts of fluids and electrolytes to help regulate body temperature.

Electrolyte vs. regular water

Adequate hydration is essential for overall health. Water is necessary for virtually all body functions, including transporting nutrients, regulating body temperature, and flushing out waste and toxins.

Suggested read: 17 foods and drinks for when you have the stomach flu

Both electrolyte and regular water count towards your daily fluid needs, as do other beverages such as coffee, tea, fruit juices, and milk.

It’s a common misperception that electrolyte water is superior to regular water for hydration. In reality, it depends on the circumstances.

More specifically, electrolyte water may be beneficial if you’re at risk for quick losses of minerals. You may want to consider an electrolyte-enhanced beverage if:

Outside of sports, hot weather, and illness, regular water works just fine to meet your day-to-day hydration needs.

Summary: Though electrolyte water may benefit under certain circumstances, regular water is sufficient to meet your general hydration needs.

Recipe: Making electrolyte water is simple

Creating your own electrolyte water is a budget-friendly and healthier way to replenish fluids and electrolytes when necessary.

Here’s a quick and simple lemon-lime sports drink recipe you can whip up at home:

Yield: Makes 4 cups (946 ml)

Serving Size: 1 cup (237 ml)

Ingredients:

This homemade version offers a clean burst of essential electrolytes without the added sugars or artificial colors and flavors you’d find in store-bought alternatives.

Summary

Electrolyte water is fortified with essential minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride to help your body run smoothly.

You don’t need to drink electrolyte-infused drinks constantly. Still, they can be helpful during extended physical activity, in hot conditions, or when you’re sick with symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea.

Store-bought sports drinks and electrolyte waters can be expensive, so making your own could be a cost-effective alternative. Homemade versions save you money and offer essential electrolytes without the added artificial colors or flavors.

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