Do Electrolytes Give You Energy?

A registered dietitian explains this and more.

Medically reviewed by Melissa Nieves, LND

Electrolytes are minerals that become positively or negatively charged when dissolved in water or bodily fluids.

Your body needs electrolytes to perform many jobs, including normal heart rhythm, muscle contractions, waste removal, pH balance, and more.

Electrolytes have been studied for their roles in nerve signaling, muscle function, hydration, and exercise performance. They can help sustain your focus and energy levels.

This article covers types and sources of electrolytes, the science behind their functions, the impact of an electrolyte imbalance, and whether supplementing is necessary.

<p>Berk Ucak</p> A young individual with braids hydrating during exercise.

Berk Ucak

A young individual with braids hydrating during exercise.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge. After consumption, electrolytes dissolve in fluids in your body and form either a positive or negative charge.

Electrolytes are present in fluids inside and outside of your cells. The positive and negative charges help electrolytes conduct signals that let cells know what functions to perform.

Many vital and basic processes require electrolytes, including:

Where Can I Get Electrolytes?

You obtain electrolytes through the foods and drinks you consume.

Your body works to keep electrolytes in balance. However, electrolytes can become too high or too low depending on factors like your diet, exercise routine, and illness.

In some cases, you may need an electrolyte drink or supplement.

You may need an electrolyte drink (like a sports drink) if you lose excess fluids through sweat, vomiting, urine, or diarrhea. Such losses may occur after working or exercising in hot weather, an intense workout, getting sick, or taking diuretics.

Electrolyte-containing drinks help replenish electrolytes quickly in cases of moderate to severe electrolyte loss. Replenishing electrolytes will help you regain and maintain your energy levels.

Types of Electrolytes

There are seven main electrolytes in your body. These include the following:

Because these electrolytes are so essential to your health, several significant institutions that conduct health-related research have set recommendations such as the following:

  • Sodium: Various organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommend a daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams (mg).

  • Potassium: For adult males, the adequate intake (AI) for potassium is 3,400 mg per day, while adult females need just 2,600 mg per day. These needs increase during pregnancy (to 2,900 mg) and lactation (to 2,800 mg).

  • Chloride: Chloride and sodium combine to make salt, so you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of chloride per day.

  • Calcium: The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg daily for males between 19 and 70 and female adults until age 50. Males over the age of 70 and females over the age of 50 need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.

  • Magnesium: Adult males need 400 mg of magnesium daily until age 30, after which they need 420 mg daily. Adult females need 310 mg of magnesium daily until age 30, after which they need 320 mg daily. Needs also increase during pregnancy and lactation.

  • Phosphorus: After age 19, the RDA for phosphorus for both males and females is 700 mg daily.

  • Bicarbonate: Your body makes all the bicarbonate it needs. Therefore, there are no recommendations for intake.

Adults can typically get all the electrolytes they need from a well-balanced diet. Some adults may even get too much of certain electrolytes, especially sodium. This is because sodium is so widespread in processed foods.

What Do Electrolytes Do?

As mentioned, each electrolyte performs a specific job (or jobs). Some of these roles occur inside cells, while others occur outside cells.

For example, sodium and chloride are mostly present outside of cells but can also be found inside of cells. Potassium and calcium are primarily found inside cells. Magnesium is found inside and outside of cells.

Important functions of electrolytes include the following:

  • Sodium helps control fluid levels in the body and assures nerves and muscles work correctly.

  • Potassium is needed for the normal functioning of your cells, muscles, and heart.

  • Chloride helps control fluid levels along with sodium. It is also crucial for blood volume and blood pressure.

  • Calcium maintains the health of your bones and teeth.

  • Magnesium is essential for muscle, nerve, and heart function. It also helps with blood pressure and blood sugar control.

  • Phosphorus works with calcium to build and maintain healthy bones and teeth.

  • Bicarbonate is vital to your body's pH balance and removing carbon dioxide.

Overall, having these electrolytes in balance helps sustain your energy levels and general health.

Sources of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are widespread in foods and can be found in both plant-based and animal-based foods.

Food sources of electrolytes include:

  • Sodium: table salt, sea salt, processed foods (bacon, canned soups, cookies, fast food), celery, beets, milk

  • Potassium: beans, dairy products, seafood, meat, nuts, lentils, vegetables (leafy greens, potatoes, squash, avocado, etc.), fruits (kiwis, bananas, apricots, raisins, etc.)

  • Chloride: table salt, sea salt, processed foods, some meats, fruits, and vegetables

  • Calcium: dairy products, tofu, sardines, salmon, fortified beverages, leafy greens

  • Magnesium: leafy greens, whole grains, beans, nuts, dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals

  • Phosphorus: meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, dairy products, processed foods

Bicarbonate is not naturally found in foods, but it may be used in the form of baking soda in baked goods and other foods. Fortunately, your body can make the bicarbonate that it needs.

Incorporating more whole foods into your diet is an excellent way to get more electrolytes. Eating a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean and plant-based protein, will also help you meet your electrolyte needs.

Muscle Function and Nerve Signaling

The roles of electrolytes in muscle function and nerve signaling are vital to your health.

In muscle function, electrolytes are involved in muscle movement and recovery. This can help sustain energy levels.

Magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium are necessary for normal muscle function.

Before a skeletal muscle contraction, nerves signal the increase of calcium within muscle cells. This sends another signal downstream for the muscle to contract. After a contraction, sodium and calcium are exchanged within cells to put muscles at rest.

After activity or exercise, magnesium helps muscles recover and prevents soreness and cramping.

Potassium, sodium, and calcium work together to help the heart (a muscle) contract and beat in rhythm.

Like muscle contractions, electrolytes help send nerve signals throughout the body for various functions.

For a nerve signal to occur, the electrolytes sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium must be unevenly distributed inside and outside nerve cells. This creates a voltage difference that causes electrolytes to enter or exit nerve cells in response to neurotransmitters. When the voltage difference is resolved, a nerve signal is sent, and a function is carried out.

The importance of electrolyte balance in muscle function and nerve signaling can't be overstated. If electrolytes are too low or too high, muscles and nerves may not work as they should.

Impact on Exercise and Performance

Electrolyte balance is fundamental to various aspects of exercise performance.

During exercise, your body needs electrolytes for fluid balance (hydration), muscle function, and energy generation from macronutrients. Specifically, fluid balance is regulated by sodium, chloride, and potassium; muscle contractions require calcium and sodium, and energy metabolism requires potassium.

However, the body can quickly lose electrolytes through sweat during exercise, resulting in muscle weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and dehydration.

After intense exercise, electrolyte supplementation may be necessary.

Research shows that consuming electrolytes after certain types of exercise leads to quick recovery of water and fluid losses. Electrolytes are thought to increase the water absorption rate, which helps repair any fluid and electrolyte imbalance that may have occurred due to excess sweating.

Electrolyte balance may also help prevent sore muscles during and after exercise. In particular, low sodium levels after exercise may increase the likelihood of muscle cramps and soreness.

In one small study, male athletes ran downhill in the heat for 40 to 60 minutes or until they lost 1.5% to 2% of their body weight. They were given either spring water or an electrolyte beverage to regain weight afterward. Those who consumed the electrolyte beverage had less muscle cramping than those who rehydrated with spring water.

Research on electrolytes for exercise performance is ongoing. Researchers hope to learn more about the proper timing and dosage of electrolytes to optimize performance and recovery.

Electrolyte Imbalance and Health Implications

An electrolyte imbalance occurs when one or more electrolytes become too high or too low. This can impact your energy levels and many other outcomes.

Electrolyte imbalances are a common issue, with hyponatremia (low sodium) being the most prevalent type of imbalance in the emergency department. Other common electrolyte imbalances include hypernatremia (high sodium), hypokalemia (low potassium), hyperkalemia (high potassium), and hypercalcemia (high calcium). Although, any electrolyte can become out of balance.

Electrolyte imbalance can affect anyone, especially when fluid levels in the body are too high or too low. Possible causes of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea

  • Excessive sweating

  • Certain medications

  • Problems with your heart, liver, or kidneys

  • Inadequate fluid intake, especially when exercising intensely or in the heat

  • Drinking too much water

There are various signs and symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance to look out for, including:

A healthcare provider may recommend getting a blood test called an electrolyte panel to diagnose a possible imbalance. They may also recommend a urine test.

Maintaining Electrolyte Balance

For most people, adequate hydration and a well-balanced diet are all necessary to keep electrolytes in check.

If you supply your body with the water and electrolytes it needs daily, it will do the rest of the work to maintain balance. When necessary, your body moves electrolytes in and out of cells to adjust and maintain fluid levels.

Recall that electrolytes are found in many plant- and animal-based foods. Including plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, fish, and meat is recommended for electrolyte balance.

Fluid needs vary from person to person and may depend on age, activity level, and body size. Generally, females need about 11.5 cups (92 ounces) of water daily, while males need 15.5 cups (124 ounces).

If water isn't your favorite drink, plenty of other ways to maintain hydration exist. Fruits and vegetables contain water. Additionally, sparkling water and milk can help you meet your hydration goals.

You may need more water during and after exercise, especially if the activity was intense or completed in the heat.

In order to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, it's recommended that athletes:

  • Drink about 16 to 20 ounces of water, or sports drink two to three hours before exercise.

  • Drink an additional 6 to 10 ounces of water or sports drink 10 to 20 minutes before exercise.

  • Maintain hydration during exercise by drinking 6 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes.

  • After you exercise, correct any fluid losses with water or sports drinks as needed.

In addition to athletes, others may also have higher water needs. People who are sick, pregnant, breastfeeding, or who have certain medical conditions (like kidney stones or a bladder infection) are at a higher risk of dehydration. Working outside or in the heat may also increase the amount of water your body needs.

Are Electrolytes Good for Me?

Electrolytes are essential for your health. However, an electrolyte supplement isn't always necessary; some people may need to avoid them altogether.

Consuming an electrolyte supplement or beverage is best only when needed. You may need an electrolyte replacement beverage if you lose excess fluids through sweat, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Consuming electrolytes when your body already has enough may put you at risk for an imbalance in which electrolytes are too high.

People with heart failure, kidney failure, cirrhosis, or those who are pregnant are at a greater risk for fluid retention or overload. Fluid retention may lead to edema (swelling) and trouble breathing.

Many electrolyte replacement drinks may contain ingredients other than electrolytes. Avoid electrolyte drinks if you're allergic to any of their ingredients. Seek immediate medical attention if you have signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as itching, hives, or shortness of breath.

Talk with a healthcare provider if you're unsure whether electrolyte supplements suit you.


Electrolytes are minerals with a positive or negative charge.

The electrolytes, sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and bicarbonate have unique and vital roles in your body that are essential to your health.

Electrolytes are necessary for muscle function, nerve signaling, hydration, waste removal, and pH balance. They can help maintain your energy levels and exercise performance. They are found in various foods and beverages.

An electrolyte imbalance should be corrected immediately to prevent serious side effects. Electrolyte beverages may reverse an electrolyte imbalance, but drinking them for any other reason is unnecessary.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.