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What Are Electrolytes and Why Should I Care?

July 8, 2020

Staying hydrated is one of the pillars of good health, one of those things you’re probably focusing on doing every day or have on your list of top health goals. But staying hydrated isn’t always as simple as just drinking more water, especially if you’re active. Electrolytes also can play an important role—no wonder there’s so much buzz around them.

What are electrolytes?

“Electrolytes are minerals—including potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium—that play many roles in the body,” says registered dietician nutritionist Eliza Savage, author of Healing Through Nutrition. “Electrolytes help to replenish hydration levels in the body. In simple terms, they attract water and help to keep muscles and tissues hydrated.”

You already know that working out in the heat causes you to sweat a lot. When that happens, it can upset the balance of those minerals in your body. Drinking water helps replace the fluids you lost, but not the electrolytes. Plus, electrolytes help regulate fluid balance in the body, needed when you’re losing and replacing fluids.

Low-carb diets like keto also call for boosting your electrolytes. When you eat fewer carbs, your insulin levels are lower, which causes your kidneys to excrete more sodium. This upsets the balance of electrolytes in your system, causing symptoms like fatigue, headaches and irritability, known as the “keto flu.”

How can I get them?

Luckily, it’s easy to find electrolytes once you know to look for them. “There are many foods that provide electrolytes, such as fruits and vegetables,” Savage says. “You can make your own electrolyte beverage using fruit and a pinch of salt. Coconut water, watermelon, avocado, and bananas are also my go-tos for electrolytes.”

You can also buy drinks and drink mixes that contain electrolytes—but they vary a lot in quality. “Skip a drink with dyes or artificial ingredients,” Savage says. “Double-check what sweetener is used. I usually only recommend stevia; avoid all other sweeteners.”

Two to try

If you like the convenience of a packaged mix, here are two we love.

  • Ultima Replenisher: Available in scoopable canisters or convenient on-the-go packets, this powdered electrolyte mix is free of sugar, artificial dyes, GMOs, and caffeine. It’s sweetened with organic stevia and natural fruit flavors, gets its bright colors from fruit extracts, and contains 6 electrolytes: Calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium, plus zinc and vitamin C. It comes in tasty flavors including orange, cherry pomegranate, lemonade, grape, raspberry, and watermelon, and we love that it’s flavorful and refreshing without being overly sweet or overpowering.
    Buy it: Ultima Replenisher, $20 for a 20-stick sample pack
  • LMNT: This drink mix’s claim to fame is its focus on 3 electrolytes—sodium, potassium and magnesium—in a particularly formulated ratio. Each stick has 1,000mg sodium, 200mg potassium and 60mg magnesium, which the company says is ideal for very active people as well as those on low carb diets. It’s made without sugar, artificial dyes and sweeteners, and comes in Orange Salt, Citrus Salt, Raspberry Salt and Raw Unflavored. The mix is very strongly flavored; though it says to mix it with 16 oz water, we found it still flavorful even in 24 oz. Because of the higher sodium level, it is salty, but we actually found that really refreshing.
    Buy it: LMNT Recharge, $45 for 30 packets

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