Electrolyte Water: Benefits and Myths

by Makayla Meixner, RD

Whether you drink bottled or tap water, it most likely contains trace amounts of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

However, the concentration of electrolytes in beverages may vary greatly. Some brands add a significant amount of minerals along with carbs and market their water as a sports drink, while others only add a negligible amount for taste.

This article discusses the potential benefits of electrolyte-enhanced water, as well as common myths surrounding it, plus how to make electrolyte water at home.

What is Electrolyte Water?

Electrolytes are minerals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water.

They’re distributed through the fluid in your body and use their electrical energy to facilitate important bodily functions (1).

Electrolytes are essential for (2):

  • Controlling your fluid balance.
  • Regulating your blood pressure.
  • Helping your muscles contract — including your heart.
  • Maintaining the correct acidity of your blood (pH).

Common electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Electrolyte waters are enhanced with these charged minerals, but the concentrations vary.

Unless it’s labeled “distilled,” your regular bottled water provides at least a small amount of electrolytes, and many products contain trace amounts for taste.

Tap water has electrolytes as well. On average, 34 ounces (1 liter) of tap water contain 2–3 percent of the reference daily intake (RDI) for sodium, calcium and magnesium but little to no potassium (3).

In contrast, the same amount of popular electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks packs up to 18 percent of the RDI for sodium and 3 percent of the RDI for potassium but little to no magnesium or calcium (4).

May Improve Exercise Performance

Electrolyte-enhanced waters, particularly sports drinks, may benefit athletes by helping replenish water, electrolytes and energy lost during exercise.

During physical activity, you need additional fluids to replace the water lost in sweat. In fact, a water loss of as little as 1–2 percent of your body weight can lead to decreased strength, speed and focus (56).

Sweat also contains electrolytes, including a significant amount of sodium, as well as small amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. On average, you lose around 1 gram of sodium with every liter of sweat (5).

Sports drinks are recommended over plain water to replace fluid and electrolytes if you tend to sweat a lot, exercise longer than one hour or in hot environments (567).

You should note that sports drinks are designed for athletes, not sedentary individuals. Along with electrolytes, they contain calories from added sugar. In fact, a 20-ounce (591-ml) bottle of Gatorade packs a whopping 30 grams of sugar (4).

Can Rehydrate During Illness

In the short term, vomiting and diarrhea are usually not serious conditions. However, severe or persistent symptoms can quickly lead to dehydration if fluids and electrolytes are not replaced.

Infants and children are especially vulnerable to dehydration from severe vomiting and diarrhea. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using an oral rehydration solution at the first signs of illness to prevent dehydration (8).

Oral rehydration solutions contain water, carbs and electrolytes in specific proportions that are easy to digest. A popular example is Pedialyte.

Sports drinks are similar but contain higher amounts of sugar. They’re not recommended for infants and young children, as they may worsen diarrhea (9).

Sports drinks may be tolerated by older children if diluted to 1 part water, 1 part sports drink. Adults typically tolerate both oral rehydration solutions and sports drinks without issues (89).

Importantly, electrolyte beverages may not be sufficient for treating severe dehydration. If diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours or if you’re unable to keep fluids down, seek medical advice (1011).

Can Help Prevent Heat Stroke

Hot environments put you at risk for a variety of heat-related illnesses, which range from mild heat rash to life-threatening heatstroke.

Normally, your body manages heat by releasing it through your skin and by sweating. However, this cooling system may begin to fail in hot weather, causing your body temperature to rise to dangerously high levels (10).

The key to preventing heat-related illnesses is to limit your time in the heat. However, getting plenty of fluid and electrolytes is also extremely important to help your body stay cool (11).

In hot environments, water and sports drinks are recommended for hydration over other beverages. Drinks containing caffeine such as soda, coffee and tea may worsen dehydration, as can alcohol (12).

Electrolyte Water vs. Regular Water

Adequate hydration is essential for overall health. Water is necessary for virtually all body functions, including transporting nutrients, regulating body temperature and flushing out waste and toxins (2).

Both electrolyte and regular water count towards your daily fluid needs, as do other beverages such as coffee, tea, fruit juices and milk.

It’s a common misperception that electrolyte water is superior to regular water for hydration. In reality, it depends on the circumstances.

More specifically, electrolyte water may be beneficial if you’re at risk for quick losses of minerals. You may want to consider an electrolyte-enhanced beverage if:

  • You’re exercising for more than one hour (6).
  • You sweat heavily during exercise (57).
  • You’re ill with vomiting or diarrhea (8).
  • You will be exposed to heat for longer periods (512).

Outside of sports, hot weather and illness, regular water works just fine to meet your day-to-day hydration needs.

How to Make Your Own Electrolyte Water

Making electrolyte water is a cost-effective and healthy way to replace fluid and electrolytes when needed.

Here is an easy lemon-lime sports drink recipe to try at home:

Yield: 4 cups (946 ml)

Serving size: 1 cup (237 ml)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lime juice
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) of unsweetened coconut water
  • 2 cups (480 ml) of cold water

Unlike store-bought versions, this recipe provides a refreshing boost of electrolytes without added sugar or any artificial colors or flavors.

The Bottom Line

Electrolyte water is enhanced with minerals your body needs to function optimally, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride.

While it’s unnecessary to drink electrolyte-enhanced beverages all the time, they may be beneficial during prolonged exercise, in hot environments or if you’re ill with vomiting or diarrhea.

Sports drinks and other electrolyte waters can be pricey, so you may want to consider a homemade version. Not only are these cheap to make, but they provide electrolytes without artificial colors or flavors.

Related at Care2

Image via Thinkstock

33 comments

Marija M
Marija M7 days ago

tks

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Lesa D
Lesa D13 days ago

thank you Kris & Makayla...

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Lisa M
Lisa M13 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M13 days ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S15 days ago

Thanks.

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Carol S
Carol AWAY S16 days ago

Thanks!

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Angela K
Angela K17 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola17 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Shirley S
Shirley S17 days ago

A good article.

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Janis K
Janis K18 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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