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  • Kelli Foerster

Electrolytes, and Hydration Drinks: How to Optimize Your Hydration



Hydration is important for optimal health. I often see hydration methods over-simplified by popular sports brands and electrolyte supplements, making us believe that any packet of electrolytes mixed into water is the key to staying hydrated. Did you know that not all electrolyte supplements are created equal, and there are different hydration methods for different needs? This article will help you understand the hydration basics and what you can do to optimize your hydration.


Water is involved in pretty much every process of the body, including regulating blood pressure and blood volume, regulating body temperature, chemical reactions, nutrient transport, waste elimination, and more. Water is vital; so vital that the body has a very tightly regulated hormone system to control fluid balance via urinary water excretion/uptake in the kidneys, sodium excretion, thirst signals, and the absorption of water and electrolytes in the gastrointestinal tract. This is why replenishing fluids naturally lost throughout the day through breathing, sweating, urination, and bowel movements is essential. As a general guideline, men lose, and therefore must replenish, approximately 3.7 L or 130 fl oz of water daily, and women, 2.7 L or 95 fl oz daily. Additionally, exercise and sweating further increase those replenishment needs.


Electrolytes are minerals with an electrical charge (ions) and influence water transport through the intestinal walls, blood vessel walls, and cell membranes. They also play an important role in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Sodium is the primary electrolyte of interest in the context of hydration because it is the primary solute that influences water distribution in the body. Other electrolytes involved in fluid balance include potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride. These electrolytes are lost in sweat, feces, and urine, but sodium is the primary electrolyte lost through sweat, making sodium replenishment a priority among active individuals.


 

General Hydration:

If you don't exercise at very high intensities or if you don't sweat a lot, then you probably don't need an electrolyte supplement. Drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet will support adequate hydration for most people with average needs. However, if you like the taste of flavored water, or if you'd like to optimize your hydration status as you feel the need, then a low sodium (5-250mg) product with a proper balance of electrolytes and lower carbohydrates (0-10g) would be a supportive option.


Supplements with 5-250mg of sodium and 0-10g of carbohydrate:

Ultima Replenisher Sodium: 55mg; CHO: 0g

Trace Minerals 40,000 Volts: Sodium 105mg; CHO 0g

Propel & Gatorade zero: Sodium: 160mg; CHO 0g

Nuun Daily: Sodium: 200mg; CHO: 4g


Those who exercise or sweat regularly would benefit by going a step further with an electrolyte supplement containing 250-600mg of sodium and 0-15g of carbohydrates. This is the most common category that average exercisers will utilize. Generally, we want no less than 220mg of sodium to replenish after sweating for about an hour. Here are some examples of good general hydration electrolyte supplements:


Supplements with 250-600mg of sodium and 0-10g of carbohydrate:

Gnarly Nutrition: Sodium: 250mg; CHO 7g

Nuun Sport: Sodium: 300mg; CHO: 4g

UCan: Sodium: 300mg; CHO: 1g

Drip Drop: Sodium: 330mg; CHO 9g

Precision Hydration 500: Sodium: 500mg; CHO 3g

Liquid IV: Sodium: 500mg; CHO: 11g

Nuun Instant: Sodium: 520mg; CHO: 7g


Advanced Hydration:

Electrolytes and sports drinks that are higher than 600mg of sodium, I consider to be advanced hydration supplements and are generally designed for individuals with more specific needs. This includes pro/elite athletes, endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, those who work out in very hot climates, and those who lose a lot of sodium through sweat. If you often find white marks on your clothes after your sweat has dried, that can indicate that you are a "salty sweater," but without a sweat test to determine how much sodium you lose through sweat, it's hard to know exactly how much sodium you need. (The amount of sweat you lose does not directly correlate to the amount of sodium lost; sodium concentration in sweat can vary greatly from person to person). Monitoring symptoms of dehydration and inadequate mineral status, such as fatigue, cramping, mood, etc., is a good way to determine the sodium intake that benefits you. Here are some examples of advanced hydration electrolyte supplements:


Supplements with 600mg+ of sodium and 0-10g of carbohydrate:

Redmond's Real Salt: Re-Lyte: Sodium: 820mg; CHO: 0g

LMNT: Sodium: 1000mg; CHO: 2g

Promix: Sodium: 1000mg; CHO: 0g

Trace Zero-Lyte: Sodium 1000mg; CHO: 0g

Precision Hydration 1000 & 1500: Sodium: 1000 & 1500mg; CHO: 4g

The Right Stuff: Sodium: 1780mg; CHO: 0g


** It's important to know that supplements with high amounts of sodium (500mg+) require adequate fluid intake. If you don't drink enough water, these supplements can actually dehydrate you and cause gastrointestinal issues. If you don't have high sodium requirements, these supplements may result in excessive sodium intake, contributing to health issues. These supplements are not meant to be casually consumed; they are for strategic replenishment of sodium from excessive sweat loss and, in some cases, malnutrition, diarrhea, and inadequate sodium intake.


Hydration + Fuel

Some sports drink formulas contain carbohydrates as sugar/glucose to provide both hydration and fuel for workouts. Adding carbohydrates to a drink provides quickly absorbed energy and optimizes intestinal absorption of water and sodium through the sodium-potassium glucose co-transporter (SGLT) mechanism. Carbohydrates can optimize hydration in any electrolyte (general or advanced) hydration formula; the optimal amount of carbohydrates in a drink will depend on individual needs. For example, 30-60g of carbohydrates is recommended per hour for any exercise bout lasting longer than 60 minutes; therefore, a sports drink with higher carbohydrate content can help an athlete reach those needs while rehydrating.


Supplements with 5-600+mg of sodium and 15-30g of carbohydrate:

Gatorade: Gatorade Thirst quencher: Sodium: 160mg; CHO: 21g

Nuun Endurance: Sodium: 380mg CHO: 16g

Skratch Labs High-Sodium: Sodium: 1720mg; CHO: 17g


 

Hopefully, you now better understand the various electrolyte drinks and how to use them to meet your needs. I was shocked when I started learning more about hydration, blindly using different electrolyte powders ranging from 5mg of sodium to 1000mg, and not understanding the purpose and importance of sugar and carbs! I hope you can use and reference this list to guide you in choosing the best electrolyte option for you! (BTW, this post is not sponsored in any way, and I am not affiliated with any of the brands/products listed above).


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Meet Kelli Foerster

MS, CNS, CPT

 

Kelli is a functional nutritionist specializing in clinical and behavioral nutrition.  Kelli is the creater of The BOLD Nutrition Method, which utilizes advanced, evidence-based nutrition and fitness and presents it in a digestible, practical way, leaving you feeling equipped, confident, and bold. 
 

Interested in working with Kelli?

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