Electrolytes are minerals that conduct an electrical charge when mixed with water. They help regulate a variety of your body’s most essential functions, including nerve signaling, pH balance, muscle contraction, and hydration.
The primary electrolytes that your body uses to carry out these vital functions are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, and bicarbonate.
The concentration of electrolytes in your blood and other bodily fluids is maintained within a very tight range. If your electrolyte levels become too high or too low, serious health complications can arise.
Daily electrolyte and fluid losses occur naturally through sweat and other waste products. Therefore, it’s important to regularly replenish them with a mineral-rich diet.
However, certain activities or situations — such as heavy exercise or bouts of diarrhea or vomiting — can increase how many electrolytes you lose and may warrant the addition of an electrolyte drink to your routine.
Here are 8 electrolyte-rich beverages you may want to add to your health and wellness tool kit.
1. Coconut water
Coconut water, or coconut juice, is the clear liquid found inside a coconut.
Over the past several years, it has become one of the most popular beverages on the market, and it’s now bottled and sold worldwide.
Coconut water is naturally low in sugar and contains a variety of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
At 46 calories per cup (237 ml), it’s also a healthier alternative to sodas, juices, and traditional sports drinks.
Summary: Coconut water is naturally low in calories and sugar yet rich in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium.
When it comes to electrolyte drinks, cow’s milk is somewhat of an unsung hero. Contrary to popular belief, milk can be used for a lot more than breakfast cereal or coffee.
In addition to its rich supply of electrolytes like calcium, sodium, and potassium, milk provides a healthy combination of carbs and protein. These two macronutrients can help you refuel and promote muscle tissue repair after a workout.
Some research suggests that these characteristics could make milk a better post-workout beverage than many commercial sports drinks — and at a fraction of the price.
Given that milk’s benefits are driven by its electrolyte, carb, and protein content, you may choose whole, low-fat, or skim milk, depending on your personal preference.
It’s worth noting that regular cow’s milk may not be the right choice for everyone — especially those who are following a vegan diet or intolerant to dairy products.
If you’re lactose intolerant but still want to include milk in your workout recovery regimen, opt for a lactose-free version.
Meanwhile, if you adhere to a vegan diet or have a milk protein allergy, you should avoid milk completely.
While plant-based alternatives likely won’t offer the same benefits as cow’s milk, some research has shown that the protein in soy milk may aid muscle repair while providing an electrolyte profile similar to that of cow’s milk.
Summary: Milk is a good source of electrolytes, as well as protein and carbs, making it a good post-workout beverage.
3. Watermelon water (and other fruit juices)
Though the name may suggest otherwise, watermelon water is simply the juice that comes from a watermelon.
One cup (237 ml) of 100% watermelon juice provides almost 6% of the recommended daily value for potassium and magnesium while offering small amounts of other electrolytes like calcium and phosphorus.
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Watermelon juice also contains L-citrulline. When used at supplemental doses, this amino acid may enhance oxygen transport and athletic performance.
However, current research suggests that the amount of L-citrulline in regular watermelon juice probably isn’t enough to have any measurable effect on exercise performance.
Other types of fruit juice can be a good source of electrolytes, too. For example, orange and tart cherry juice also contains potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Plus, 100% fruit juice doubles as a great source of vitamins and antioxidants.
One of the main drawbacks of using fruit juice as an electrolyte replacement drink is that it’s typically low in sodium.
If you’re sweating for a prolonged period and attempt to rehydrate with a beverage that doesn’t contain sodium, you risk developing low sodium blood levels.
To mitigate this risk, some people like to make their own sports drinks using a combination of fruit juices, salt, and water.
Summary: Watermelon and other fruit juices contain several electrolytes but are typically low in sodium and high in sugar.
Smoothies are an excellent way to mix a variety of electrolyte-rich foods into one drinkable concoction.
Some of the best sources of electrolytes come from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy products — all of which can be blended to make a delicious and nutritious smoothie.
If you’re getting over a stomach bug and want to replace lost electrolytes, a smoothie may be easier to digest and more appetizing than many of the aforementioned foods on their own.
Smoothies are also a great option for anyone looking for a post-workout recovery drink. They can not only replace lost electrolytes but also be a good way to support muscle tissue growth and repair if you include some protein-rich additions.
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However, a smoothie may not be the best option if you’re looking for an electrolyte drink to consume in the middle of heavy or prolonged exercise.
That’s because it has the potential to leave you feeling too full to comfortably complete your workout. Thus, it’s probably best reserved for at least 1 hour before or immediately following your exercise routine.
Summary: Smoothies allow you to obtain electrolytes from blended, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. They’re a great pre-workout or post-workout recovery beverage.
5. Electrolyte-infused waters
Electrolyte-infused water can be a great, low-calorie way to replenish electrolytes and keep you well hydrated.
Still, not all electrolyte waters are created equal.
In the United States, most standard tap water contains about 2–3% of your daily needs for certain electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
Interestingly, certain brands of electrolyte-enhanced bottled water can be very costly and don’t contain significantly more electrolytes — and in some cases even less.
That said, some brands are specifically designed to assist with hydration and mineral replacement and contain higher quantities of electrolytes. These are more likely to be worth your money, depending on why you’re drinking an electrolyte beverage in the first place.
Keep in mind that these kinds of waters are also likely to be packed with sugar, as many of them are designed to replenish carb stores during prolonged exercise. If you’re not in the market for those extra sugar calories, opt for brands with little or no added sugar.
You may also try adding freshly cut or muddled fruit and herbs to your water bottle to create your own flavored, electrolyte-infused water.
Summary: Electrolyte-infused waters can be great low-calorie hydration options, but be mindful about the brands that contain large quantities of added sugar.
6. Electrolyte tablets
Electrolyte tablets are a convenient, inexpensive, and portable way to make your electrolyte drink no matter where you are.
All you have to do is drop one of the tablets in some water and shake or stir to mix.
Most electrolyte tablets contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — though the exact quantities may vary depending on the brand.
They also tend to be low-calorie, have little to no added sugar, and come in a variety of unique, fruity flavors.
Certain brands of electrolyte tablets may also contain caffeine or supplemental doses of vitamins, so be sure to check the label if you want to avoid any of those extra ingredients.
If you can’t find electrolyte tablets locally or are hoping for a more affordable price, they’re widely available online.
Summary: Electrolyte tablets are a convenient and affordable option for making your electrolyte drink. All you have to do is mix a tablet with water.
7. Sports drinks
Commercially sold sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade have been among the most popular electrolyte drinks on the market since the 1980s.
These beverages can come in handy for endurance athletes who need the combination of easily digestible carbs, fluid, and electrolytes to maintain hydration and energy throughout an athletic event or training session.
Yet, commercial sports drinks also carry some major drawbacks. They tend to contain a lot of artificial colors, flavors, and added sugar, which aren’t wholly necessary for anyone — whether you’re an athlete or not.
A 12-ounce (355-ml) serving of Gatorade or Powerade contains over 20 grams of added sugar. That’s more than half of the daily recommended amount.
Plus, sugar-free versions may not be a much better alternative.
Though they don’t contain added sugar and have fewer calories, they usually contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners instead. These sweeteners may contribute to uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas and bloating in some people.
One simple way to avoid the less-than-favorable ingredients in sports drinks is to make your own.
Simply use a combination of 100% fruit juice, coconut water, and a pinch of salt to create a healthier electrolyte beverage without artificial ingredients and added sugar.
Suggested read: Evaporated milk substitutes: 12 clever alternatives
Summary: Commercial sports drinks can be good for refueling and replenishing electrolytes during intense exercise, but they’re often high in sugar and artificial colors and flavors. Try making a healthier version at home.
Pedialyte is a commercial electrolyte drink marketed for children, but adults may use it, too.
It’s designed to be a rehydration supplement when you’re experiencing fluid losses due to diarrhea or vomiting. It’s much lower in sugar than a typical sports drink, and sodium, chloride, and potassium are the only electrolytes it includes.
Each variety contains only 9 grams of sugar, but the flavored options also contain artificial sweeteners. If you want to avoid artificial sweeteners, opt for an unflavored version.
Summary: Pedialyte is a rehydration supplement that only contains sodium, chloride, and potassium. It’s intended for children or adults to replenish electrolytes during a bout of diarrhea or vomiting.
Is an electrolyte drink right for you?
Sports drinks and other types of electrolyte beverages are frequently marketed to the general public, but they’re probably not necessary for most people.
Regular intake of some high-calorie, high-sugar electrolyte drinks could make it more difficult for you to reach your health goals, especially if they’re not being used for their intended purpose.
Most healthy, moderately active people can stay hydrated and obtain adequate amounts of electrolytes by eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and drinking plenty of water.
Fluid needs can vary by individual, but it’s generally recommended to consume at least 68–101 ounces (2–3 liters) of fluid per day from a combination of food and beverages.
That said, there are specific instances when you may be at a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, and plain food and water just won’t cut it.
If you’re engaging in continuous, vigorous physical activity for longer than 60 minutes, spending extended periods in a very hot environment, or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, an electrolyte drink may be necessary.
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If you’re not sure whether you’re hydrating properly, watch for these signs of mild to moderate dehydration:
- dry mouth and tongue
- dry skin
- muscle weakness
- dark urine
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and consuming adequate fluids, it may be time to incorporate an electrolyte beverage into your routine.
If these symptoms worsen, consult your healthcare provider.
Summary: Most people can maintain fluid and electrolyte balance from water and a balanced diet alone. Still, if you’re engaging in prolonged, intense physical activity or experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, an electrolyte drink may be warranted.
Electrolytes are minerals that help your body carry out a variety of vital functions, such as hydration, muscle contractions, pH balance, and nerve signaling.
To function properly, your body must maintain adequate levels of fluid and electrolytes at all times.
Beverages like coconut water, milk, fruit juice, and sports drinks can all contribute to hydration and electrolyte balance.
For most people, a balanced diet and adequate water intake are enough to maintain electrolyte levels. However, some instances may warrant the use of electrolyte drinks, particularly if you’re experiencing rapid fluid losses due to sweating or illness.
Drinking plenty of water and watching for early signs of dehydration can help you determine whether adding an electrolyte beverage to your routine is right for you.