If you've ever played a sport, engaged in an athletic hobby, or even stocked up for a hot summer day in the sun, chances are you know a thing or two about how important electrolytes are to how your body functions. Most likely, you've consumed one of the many popular sports drinks on the market, most of which combine fast energy in the form of sugar with a few essential electrolytes. While a sports drink can be useful in a pinch, they tend to underperform other electrolyte drinks, which focus more specifically on hydration.
These streamlined, no-frills drinks help maintain your body's electrolyte levels without filling you up with unnecessary sugars, artificial additives, caffeine, and other stimulants. Below, we've taken the time to help you understand a little more about the importance of regularly consuming electrolytes, either through food or a beverage.
The Four Most Important Types of Electrolytes
All electrolytes are essential minerals that help ensure things like your blood's acid-base balance (pH level), cell hydration levels, and even basic muscle function. While all the electrolytes are important, deficiencies in some of these minerals are more common than in others. The five most common electrolytes you'll find in products like an electrolyte drink are:
Sodium chloride, better known as simply salt, is arguably one of the most critical elements that make up the human body. Not only does it work together with other electrolytes to provide crucial health benefits, but it also facilitates communication between nerves. While the CDC recommends an average intake of 2,300 mg of sodium per day, this should be increased for individuals who sweat heavily throughout the day.
Sodium and potassium are often viewed as two sides of the same coin, and the proper balance of these electrolytes can provide substantial health benefits such as lower blood pressure and decreased risk of heart disease. Potassium deficiencies, on the other hand, may cause issues with digestion and bone density and can even result in temporary paralysis if left untreated for long enough.
Alongside other electrolytes, magnesium is responsible for promoting strong bones, producing energy, and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Additionally, magnesium plays a crucial role in helping muscle fibers relax after contraction, so magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle twitching or cramping.
Calcium plays a critical role in how muscles contract during movement or exercise, and low calcium levels can lead to muscle weakness or unusual levels of fatigue. While many people consume healthy amounts of calcium from dairy products or leafy green vegetables, calcium absorption decreases with age, so supplementing with an electrolyte drink may help boost intake and offset potential symptoms.
How Do Electrolyte Imbalances Happen?
Far and away, the most common cause of an electrolyte imbalance involves dehydration due to heat exposure, liquid loss during illnesses, or excessive sweating from physical activity. In rarer instances, certain chronic diseases, burns, or even eating disorders can also disrupt your body's electrolyte balance. Finally, some studies have found that drinking alcohol beyond the recommended amounts can disrupt normal electrolyte levels.
Remember that combining two or more risk factors--for example, intense exercise outside during the summer--can increase the rates at which you lose electrolytes and thus increase potential symptoms.
Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance
Typically, mild electrolyte imbalances come with few symptoms, which often go overlooked by otherwise healthy people. In more serious cases, however, people can experience symptoms such as the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular heartbeat
What to Do for a Chronic Electrolyte Imbalance
If you suspect that you frequently suffer from an electrolyte imbalance or your symptoms are more severe, consider reaching out to your healthcare provider to schedule blood tests or a comprehensive metabolic panel. That way, you can rule out any underlying health conditions which might be interfering with your body's ability to maintain the proper balance of different electrolytes.
Is An Electrolyte Drink Worth It?
Most people consume electrolytes through their daily diets, and simple dietary changes such as incorporating coconut water may stave off the worst effects of an electrolyte imbalance. For athletes, those who work in hot climates, or people recovering from temporary illnesses, however, a good electrolyte drink is simply the most effective way to restore lost electrolytes due to sweating and dehydration.
The best electrolyte drinks take these benefits one step further by providing a carefully balanced mix of multiple electrolytes without unnecessary ingredients like added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or so-called "performance boosters." Our Hydrate48, for example, is one of the best electrolyte drink mixes on the market.
Because it comes in an easy-to-mix powder, you can add one serving of Hydrate48 to water, your favorite beverage, a pre-workout drink, or even a post-workout protein shake. And, because we built our formula with only the most necessary components for proper hydration, you can rest assured that you aren't adding any unwanted ingredients or calories to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to consume too many electrolytes?
Unfortunately, it is entirely possible to consume too much of a single type of electrolyte, thereby causing an imbalance. Consuming too much potassium, for example, can lead to a condition called hyperkalemia. This is why it's important to always find an electrolyte drink or drink mix with the right balance of nutrients.
Does sugar affect hydration?
Many experts believe that certain sugars may worsen the effects of dehydration by encouraging you to urinate more frequently. Because of this interaction, it may be best to avoid sugary sports drinks and instead find a sugar-free powder like Hydrate48.
How much of each electrolyte should you take each day?
While intake varies depending on how much you sweat and other factors, experts generally recommend 2,300 mg of sodium, 4,700 mg of potassium, 1,000 mg of calcium, and about 350 mg of magnesium for adults each day. Keep in mind that you also consume electrolytes from your normal daily diet.