Medically reviewed by Roxana Ehsani, RD
Electrolytes are essential minerals that conduct electrical messages in the body. They help the body regulate fluid levels, energy output, brain function, muscle control, and heart rhythm.
Primary electrolytes that our bodies need include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and bicarbonate. When your electrolyte levels are too high or too low, uncomfortable symptoms and even life-threatening problems can occur.
Our bodies lose electrolytes through sweat and waste products. After strenuous exercise or gastrointestinal loss (diarrhea or vomiting), you may need to replenish electrolytes.
This article discusses the healthiest electrolyte drinks, as well as those you should avoid.
Electrolyte Drinks to Replenish Low Levels
Our bodies lose electrolytes through fluid loss like sweat, vomiting, or diarrhea. A high-intensity workout can lead to fluid loss through sweat. Researchers have determined that people exercising for over 60 minutes should replenish electrolytes through food or drink.
Cow’s milk provides a unique blend of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein that makes it an ideal workout recovery drink. Just 1 cup of milk has 84 calories and includes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. One study found milk may be a better recovery drink than sports drinks.
2. Coconut Water
Coconut water is the liquid found inside a coconut. It is also available in bottles. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes, like potassium, and it also contains sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Unlike most sports drinks, it is naturally low in sugar. A cup of coconut water has 46 calories. Coconut water can be consumed during or after exercise, but it is not a good sports drink alternative for athletes or after a high-intensity workout.
3. Fruit Juice
If you don’t love the taste of milk or coconut water, fruit juice may be a good option. Most fruit juices provide several electrolytes, as well as natural sugar, to give you energy. Orange juice provides calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Fruit juice is also rich in vitamins and antioxidants. One drawback to fruit juice is that it does not contain sodium. When you’re sweating from exercise, your body is losing sodium, so you may need another source of it if you choose fruit juice as your recovery drink.
A fruit smoothie combines electrolyte-rich liquids and foods. A smoothie can replenish your electrolytes after a workout. Don’t plan to sip a smoothie during your workout, though, because it might be too heavy and leave you feeling sick.
To make an electrolyte smoothie, start with milk or fruit juice as a base. Then, add foods that provide essential electrolytes. Bananas are rich in potassium and contain phosphorus and magnesium. Add yogurt to get calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Toss in a tablespoon of peanut butter to add even more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.
Pedialyte is an over-the-counter electrolyte drink that is marketed for children but is safe for adults as well. It provides several essential electrolytes and contains less sugar than many sports drinks. Pedialyte provides rehydration after fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea.
A low-sugar sports drink can provide a quick hit of electrolytes after a workout. Sports drinks like Gatorade provide fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. Unfortunately, these drinks are usually high in sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you try a sports drink, look for a low-sugar variety unless you are a competitive athlete who needs the sugar.
7. Electrolyte Water
Electrolyte water is infused with electrolytes. It often contains other flavors and sweeteners as well. Electrolyte water often contains less sugar and calories than sports drinks. Brands like Propel offer low-sugar options. However, these waters still contain artificial sweeteners.
8. Electrolyte Tablets
Electrolyte tablets are a convenient way to replenish electrolytes. Drop a tablet into a bottle of water and let it dissolve. These tablets are designed for athletes who need to replace electrolytes after a rigorous workout. They are usually high in sodium to replace the sodium you lose through sweat.
9. Electrolyte Powder
Electrolyte powder can be dissolved in water, is designed for athletes, and contains high electrolytes. Do not consume electrolyte powder unless you are performing a high-intensity workout.
10. Electrolyte Drops
Electrolyte drops are a concentrated electrolyte solution. Athletes can add a few drops to their water or smoothie for quick electrolyte replacement. They are usually unflavored and very low in sugar.
Which Sports Drinks Are Less Healthy?
The least healthy sports drinks are those high in sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sports drinks contain less sugar than soda and energy drinks but can still have too much.
Athletes who regularly perform high-intensity workouts need the sugar and electrolytes in sports drinks or another source of electrolytes during and after exercise. However, people who don't lose fluids through sweat or gastrointestinal losses don't need sports drinks.
One study found that regularly drinking sports drinks can increase the risk of:
The more frequently adolescents who are not active drink sports drinks, the higher their body mass index (BMI) tends to be.
Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolytes are essential for overall health, cell function, and muscle contraction. When the body experiences an electrolyte imbalance, these bodily functions cannot work properly.
Hypernatremia (high sodium): racing heart (tachypnea), sleep problems, restlessness
Hypokalemia (low potassium): weakness, fatigue, muscle twitching
Can You Drink Too Many Electrolytes?
It is possible to consume too many electrolytes. Drinking too much or too little during strenuous exercise can lead to serious electrolyte imbalances. Overhydration, or drinking too much water, can lead to low sodium levels (hyponatremia).
Drinking sports drinks when you haven’t experienced fluid loss can lead to high levels of electrolytes. This may cause headaches, confusion, fatigue, stomach upset, and muscle cramps.
Electrolytes are essential minerals that conduct electrical messages in the body. They regulate specific bodily functions like brain function, heart rhythm, and muscle and nerve function.
Our bodies need a healthy level of primary electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and bicarbonate. When these electrolytes are too high or too low, serious symptoms and health problems can occur. If this imbalance isn't treated, it can become life-threatening.
People who have experienced fluid loss may require an electrolyte drink to replenish lost electrolytes. Electrolytes are lost through sweat during intense workouts or through gastrointestinal problems like vomiting or diarrhea. Healthy electrolyte drinks include coconut water, milk, fruit juice, smoothies, and sports drinks.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.