I was in Target yesterday (no surprise there) and was shocked at the amount of neon-colored sport and electrolyte drinks, powders, and tablets claiming to improve physical performance and help you recover. Whether you’re drinking these drinks because you just had an intense CrossFit workout or you’re getting over the flu–are the health benefits really paying off?
What are electrolytes and what do they do?
Electrolytes are minerals found in your blood that help to regulate and control the balance of fluids in the body. These minerals play a vital role in regulating blood pressure, muscle contraction and keep your system functioning properly.
The big three electrolytes are:
In order for optimal health and physical performance, you need the right amount of electrolytes in your body. When your body loses a large amount of these minerals, you experience dehydration, muscle cramps and spasms, and may feel lousy overall.
How many electrolytes you lose during exercise depends on weight, fitness level, intensity and duration of exercise, humidity and how much you sweat. The primary electrolyte we lose through sweat is sodium. Although it gets a bad rep, it helps us retain fluids.
Electrolyte drinks: What to look for
Not all electrolyte drinks are created equal so read the label first. I put together a blog post on how to read labels so check that out if you’re not sure what to look for.I also recommend reading the labels on immunity and vitamin drinks. SOme of these options don’t necessarily have electrolytes in them, so they won’t do much for replenishing hydration. If you’re working out for an hour or less, regular H20 will do but if you’re exercising upwards of 75 minutes or more, and if it’s hot outside, I recommend an electrolyte drink for during or after your workout.
A typical 8 ounce electrolyte drink has approximately 14 grams sugar, 100 milligrams sodium and 30 milligrams potassium. There are even specialty electrolyte drinks for endurance and ultra-endurance athletes with greater potassium and sodium, plus additional minerals like magnesium and calcium.
If you’re naturally a heavy sweater or looking to replenish hydration after you’ve been sick, focus on choosing zero or low-calorie options. Coconut water might be a good option if you’re looking for a more natural electrolyte drink. Just be aware of added sugar and read the label first.