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Replenishing Electrolytes

It is summer here in the South and that means high humidity with daily temperatures in the 90s. Engaging in almost any outdoor activity will surely bring plenty of sweat.

Sweating is good for the body. As you know, sweating is our body’s built-in mechanism to keep us cool, although it does not feel refreshing with sweat clinging to the skin when the surrounding air is stagnant and damp. When the sweat does finally evaporate, it leaves behind salts on your skin, which is why your face might feel chalky or lips taste salty.

When we perspire, we do not sweat pure water. While water is the primary substance, sweat also contains electrolytes, such as sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium, small amounts of urea and lactate, as well as trace elements like copper, zinc and iron.

The loss of excessive amounts of electrolytes and water can quickly dehydrate you. For obvious reasons, fluid intake should always remain in excess of sweat loss. Water is vital for digestion and metabolic waste. And electrolytes are essential in order for the body to retain water. Replenishing lost electrolytes and fluid allows the cells in our bodies to function properly and maintain our energy and stability. Our performance will greatly diminish if rehydration is not achieved.

Electrolytes & sports drinks

As you near exhaustion and desperately need to quench your thirst, what comes to mind as the perfect beverage? Water, beer, fruity water?

Certain brands of sport drinks have done a miraculous job marketing their product to us. So much in fact, that when we engage in any athletic activity (or are ill from too much fluid loss), we are convinced that we must gulp something sporty and fruity to replenish our electrolytes and feel better. The popular beverage Gatorade likely comes to mind. The idea is that electrolyte drinks are needed to properly rehydrate us and improve our performance. This is not true.

Rehydration after intense exercise can only be achieved if the electrolytes and water lost from sweat are replenished. The amount of electrolytes lost from sweat depends on many factors. It is not only variable between individuals, but varies based on the intensity of activity, environment, and bodily composition. For instance increasing temperature and humidity can increase the rate of sweating by up to approximately 1 L/h. It is impossible to know whether you have adequately replaced lost electrolytes. Drinking something fruity is almost never going to make up for the loss alone.

Even the sport themed drinks and those powdered electrolyte mixes, tablets, fruity syrups, and goopy squeeze gels aren’t a good match for electrolyte loss. In fact, you are best to avoid the sporty drinks. In particular those “ade” brands contains ingredients such as artificial coloring, artificial flavors, and gmo corn syrup. Until recently some U.S. formulations even contain brominated vegetable oil, a controversial food additive banned in many other parts of the world. Regardless, the sugar and additives in these sports drinks are likely to contribute to unwanted side effects. You are better off without them. Stick with drinking water and eating real foods.

Water alone is adequate 

Don’t worry about drinking lost electrolytes as long as you are eating solid foods and getting plenty of plain H20. Electrolytes lost from sweat are replaced through food, and plain water is what your body prefers for adequate rehydration.

  • Eat foods high in electrolytes. This is not difficult to do when eating a plant-based diet. For instance high potassium fruits include banana, dates, raisins, coconut and avocado. Vegetable sources include spinach, beans, lentils and potato.
  • Do not restrict salt in the diet. Adding extra salt to foods after a period of heavy sweating is beneficial for hydration. Salt helps retain fluid in the body to keep us hydrated and is the one most depleted from sweating. The highest concentration of electrolytes lost from sweat is from sodium and chloride (i.e. table salt) followed by potassium.
  • Drink enough water. Most people underestimate the amount of water they have lost through sweat and consequently do not drink enough to replace it. When the body is dehydrated it does not function as efficiently. The blood gets thicker and the heart must work harder to pump and transport blood through the body. This also makes it much harder for the muscles to utilize nutrients. How much water should you drink? It depends. The common 8 oz of water 8 times per day is likely not going to be suffice when active outdoors. You’ll have to add more fluids depending on the activity, climate, your overall body composition and health status. The litmus test of dehydration is the color of your urine. If it is dark yellow or brown, you are not drinking enough water. If it is clear to light yellow, you are drinking enough. Fluorescent yellow urine means you are probably taking vitamins and are excreting out excess water-soluble vitamins, such as B2 and C.

When food is not available

Sometimes food is not an option. To achieve effective rehydration following activity, you should look for beverages containing moderately high levels of sodium and some potassium. Also look for a small amount of carbohydrate (< 2%) in the form of sugar. A small amount of sugar can improve the rate of intestinal uptake of sodium and water. Just make sure you are drinking more fluid than sweat lost to provide for the additional losses from urine.

Finally, if you are like some people, you need a sweet or pleasant taste in order to drink adequate fluids or to feel satisfied. In other words, you crave sugar. And since the primary ingredient in most sports drinks is sugar, your desire is fulfilled. If that is the only way you will consume enough fluids, then go for it. Just remember, many beverages containing caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which mean they will draw out more water from the body. As usual, nothing beats drinking some old fashioned water and eating foods from whole plant sources.

What is your drink of choice after a day of intense sweating?

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24 thoughts on “Replenishing Electrolytes”

  • Great article. I’m an avid runner, so when I don’t get enough electrolytes on a long run, I start cramping (even though I’m careful to watch my diet). I’m not a big fan of sports drinks, so I use electrolyte tablets.

  • I’m that person, that sweat faster than i can put it back .two heat stroke not fun. Think I’ll try electrolyte pills also.

  • I recently started electrolyte concentrate drops in my water. I was cramping up a lot since, i guess, i wasnt eating enough food that contain enough of the electrolytes i need. It may also be because i increased my intake of water, someone told me i can dilute my electrolytes with an imbalance of water to electrolytes. The drops do seem to work great.

  • I’ve been training hard and my feet keep cramping I don’t like sports drinks. It’s good to know what foods can help.

  • i work outside and it is hot. i can drink up to a gallon but often drink powerade and gatorade when outside. i recommend them. also i have to eat a ton of food due to so many calories being burned. rehydrating after and before is soo important too! good luck and hope you all feel well.

  • Just had a seizure because had sudden severe thirst and drank almost 12 bottles of water in 2 hours. This caused my sodium to drop very quickly and the seizure occurred. THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF A SEVERE CASE! Now I eat a banana a day and cut way down caffeine. Electrolytes keep sodium levels balanced!

  • I’m on a high dose of Lasixc due to sudden onset of fluid retention. I find I am tired asll of the time and just want to sleep. I have known for years that the “ade” drinks are an urban legend. I am trying water with electrolytes in them to see what happens. I’m also going to try to have a dietitcian review my diagnoses and make reccomendations. I have always been a person who sweats.Lasix is adding gfire to gasoline. This is the probblem with medications, start on one and thern be put ion another for containdications. Not Me! Best of Luck!

  • If I get behind on salt, I have a dill pickle and a big glass of water.
    Never dug into the science behind it, but it’s worked better for me than Gatorade.

  • I am currently recovering from surgery on my neck and I was on a full liquid diet for 6 days. I would get sick when I took my pills. I had to have an exasperater by me at all times. I tried to drink Pedialyte but I just couldn’t drink it. I am going back to drinking water with Crystal light. I would like to know if I could use tablets to help. I am going to ask my doctor. Until then I will be including fruits and vegetables to my diet.

  • These answers have helped me a great deal i had these terrible cramps in both my hands and was on my way to the ER until i checked on line and figured out that i had soo much sweat comeing of me today while waxing my truck and learned that i didnt drink enough water

  • Is it safe to put electrolytes in my water if I don’t work out hard, but have been very ill in the resent past?

  • what about pink Himalayan sea salt? I have low BP and I don’t eat much in the line of processed foods so I add salt as desired to bland foods. This seems to keep my electrolytes in balance or at least I don’t have symptoms.

  • Unrefined Sea salt and Himalayan salt are both excellent. These salts contain a multitude of natural trace minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

  • My boss was sponsoring a CORE (off road racing event) in Chula Vista California, it was smoking hot, dry, & dusty.
    I was dying of thirst & being 60 years young, working hard in the infield means no source of water & one flat cold hamburger.
    ESPN was filming the event (they were awesome people) they gave me 2 cases of Gatorade I put in my truck to pass around, nobody wanted them so must have drank 12 of them that day. That night & the next morning I learned a valuable lesson, I felt horrible (like edgy) but still dragging tired too & my rear end was clogged up (you know what I mean). I had to be in the infield the next day too, so I took gallons of water with me this time & I was just fine on both ends.


  • I drink Sqwincher Zero every day, sugar free that has half the sodium of sports drinks and almost twice the potassium. You can buy it online from almost all Safety Distributors.
    It is the healthy alternative that most people are looking for. Check out SQWINCHER. COM FIR MORE INFORMATION!

  • The following are electrolytes:
    salt (sodium chloride)
    Tap water does contain trace amounts, but if you are sweating (especially outdoors) tap water will not replace enough to recover. Certain bottled waters contain electrolytes; ingredients are listed on the labels. But to readily up take these you need a small amount of sugar. Some of the “ade” drink contain sugars, but most seem excessive and are probably pricey. There are some DIY recovery drinks if you google for them. Chocolate milk seems like a tasty recovery drink.

  • I drink Gatorade half-strength powder about 5 liters a day when working outside in the sun. If I don’t do this I will cramp and fall to the ground. I am hoping for a better option than Gatorade but I think until we find a proper easily available alternative Gatorade is important for some of us to survive.

  • Is extremely severe headache is causwd by deydrarion that lasts a long time and only cure is painkillers and a short nap.

  • The water drink called “Smart Water” contains electrolytes and no flavoring just like drinking a really fresh drink of water, works for me.

  • As a wildland firefighter, I tell my assigned resources to mix 1 part “gatorade” to 3 parts water. I myself only drink 1 serving of gatorade a day while on the fireline but go through a lot of water.

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