As the temperatures heat up, many of us find ourselves reaching for a cool drink to stay hydrated. Instead of drinking water, you might be tempted to try one of the many electrolyte drinks or flavored waters on supermarket shelves, thinking they’re a step up from plain old water. Whether you're looking for post-workout replenishment or trying to keep your body hydrated during a bout of the stomach flu, some of these drinks can help you feel better.
Staying hydrated regulates body temperature, allows your heart to work more efficiently, prevents headaches and muscle fatigue, aids digestion, and even boosts your mood.1 2 Especially after an intense workout, your body loses more than sweat. It also loses electrolytes and essential minerals like sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium.
Electrolytes serve a number of purposes, including fluid balance, muscle contraction, and energy metabolism — all things that are crucial to your body's performance.
And when it comes to hydration, the good old water is usually fine if your workout is under 60 minutes. But if you’re working out for longer than that or exposed to excessive heat, you will need electrolytes in your fluid intake to help you rehydrate properly. If you try to rehydrate with plain water, you may actually end up diluting what electrolytes are left in your blood and may cause something called hyponatremia, which refers to low sodium in your blood.
What are electrolytes and what do they do
Electrolytes are minerals found in your blood that help regulate and control the balance of fluids in the body. These minerals play a role in regulating blood pressure, muscle contraction and keep your system functioning properly. The big three electrolytes are Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium. The right amount of electrolytes in your body is needed for optimal health and physical performance.
If you lose a significant amount of these minerals (either by intense exercise, sweating, vomiting or diarrhea), you’re going to experience dehydration and feel pretty lousy. You might also experience muscle cramps and spasms.
When your body becomes dehydrated, it has to ration the water it has left. Your heart and lungs are pretty important, so it focuses on those and a few other organs and starts sending water from places like your muscles and brain.
With less water, the brain starts to contract, pulling on the nerves around it creating a massive headache. Your muscles, depleted of water and electrolytes, become sore and fatigued as if you’d overexerted them the day before.
Sweating and Losing Electrolytes
We lose electrolytes when we lose bodily fluids - dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. During exercise and intense physical activity, we lose large amounts of electrolytes through sweating.
All of our common electrolytes are depleted when we sweat. Sweat is mostly water which makes hydration essential. However, sweat also contains large amounts of sodium and chloride as well as small amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonate.
Go for a long run on a hot day or hike up a big mountain and you can sweat out a huge amount of these electrolytes. Losing too many electrolytes will lead to an imbalance. An improper electrolyte balance can cause headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, dehydration, and even seizures. Going for an extended period of time with an imbalance can lead to some seriously nasty problems like this long list of deadly diseases.
The rate at which an individual loses electrolytes varies drastically. Activity, intensity, humidity, elevation, gender, weight - all play a role in depletion rates which makes estimations so difficult and inaccurate. We also sweat with varying concentration levels of electrolytes. That being said, for sodium, a general rule of thumb is to replace 80-240 mg per hour.3
Water can fend off dehydration but drinking water alone won’t replenish lost sodium, chloride, potassium and other minerals.
Electrolyte supplements such as LyteDrops and others are the ideal way to replenish the body's water and electrolyte concentrations after severe dehydration caused by exercises,4 excessive alcohol consumption (hangover), diarrhea, vomiting, intoxication or starvation.
Do not feel you have to rely on a sports drink for exercising. Sodium and potassium are also common in a lot of foods, so a well-balanced meal after exercise can also help with replenishing electrolytes and other nutrients. For instance, bananas and applesauce are good sources of electrolytes and carbs.
Outside of long-duration exercise, sports drinks are not recommended for regular hydration. It's important to consider that sports drinks often have a lot of sugar in the ingredients, so drinking them can make it harder to lose weight. For that reason, people who are exercising in order to help with weight loss may want to avoid sports drinks and choose a sugar-free alternative like Purple Tree's Hydration Drops.
Another good idea to ease off the coffee on hot days. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks act as a diuretic – which causes your body to produce urine and speeds up dehydration.