After hitting the gym, going for a run or working in the hot sun, you may be looking for the best way to replenish electrolytes to speed up your body’s recovery. Anyone who exerts themselves for over an hour will sweat enough to lose important minerals and be vulnerable to experience negative side effects. Here’s some information that will help you choose the best source of electrolytes for you.
Why Replenish Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals within your body fluids that contribute to vital bodily functions including the balance of water and pH levels, the movement of nutrients to cells, and the overall well-being of muscles, nerves, heart and brain tissue. When your body is lacking electrolytes, you can experience negative side effects such as headaches, nausea, muscle cramping or even much worse. When you have muscle cramps during exercise, for example, it may be that you are depleted of the mineral (and electrolyte) potassium, which specifically helps with muscle function. Other electrolytes include:
Sources of Electrolytes in Foods
While most of us get enough electrolytes through a balanced diet, the minute we sweat in the gym or lose electrolytes in other ways, we need to replace them. Looking to replenish electrolytes with foods can be enjoyable, as many on the list are delicious. However, comprehensive electrolyte replacement only through food requires some serious meal planning and preparation. For the foodies in the bunch, here are are some of our favorites:
Bananas - no list would be complete without this fan-favorite potassium treat
Avocados - mash up some guac and get your potassium and magnesium
Nuts - generally they provide magnesium and some also add in a bit of phosphorous
Dairy - milk and yogurt are good sources of the electrolytes calcium and phosphorous
Spinach - Popeye knew what he was doing by ensuring his calcium and magnesium
Of course salt is a good source of sodium and chloride, and it’s important for athletes to replace these minerals in their bodies. However, as with all the good stuff, too much can have a negative impact; too much salt can be detrimental to your blood pressure, among other things. So if you’ve been told to limit your sodium, have a conversation with your doctor to make sure you’re achieving the right balance for your exercise levels.
If you’ve watched enough survivor shows, you’ve heard the talk about coconut water. It provides a solid supply of potassium, with some magnesium and sodium thrown in. It’s also been documented as an emergency IV fluid in remote locations (although we don’t recommend this). No need to grab your machete, as there are numerous coconut water brands sold in stores and a variety of flavors to suit your palate. While it’s a popular drink, it may not be the best option for a total electrolyte replacement because of its lower levels of sodium. Any athlete working out more than an hour, or with intense cardio, will sweat out a lot of sodium. So unless you want to take a salt shaker to your coconut water, you may choose to look elsewhere for a more complete source of electrolytes.
Electrolyte Powders and Supplements
There is a wide array of powders and supplements on the market. They can be super convenient for traveling and are a go-to choice for many to replenish electrolytes. Be sure so read the labels carefully, though. Most will provide sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which cover the major electrolytes. Our bias is to choose ones without a lot of sugar, additives and artificial junk. For some people, powdered products just aren’t their jam--many brands don’t dissolve well and can have some flavors that are too sweet or too mineral tasting, depending on individual preference. All in all, finding the right powder or supplement for you may take a little trial and error, but the convenience could be worth the effort.
Sports Drinks and Electrolyte Water
Sports drinks are a broad category of beverages and some boast electrolyte replacement benefits. The allure of sports drinks is that they can be very tasty, but that flavor usually comes from excessive sugar and artificial sweeteners. Combine that with artificial food color and a slew of artificial preservatives, you have something that looks really cool on a store shelf, but is not super cool for your body. Of course not every sports drink deserves this critique, but buyers must certainly be wary of what they are getting--read your labels.
Electrolyte water products have taken off in popularity recently and can be very beneficial to replenish electrolytes. Similar to an enhanced sports drink, this is water with electrolytes added, such as magnesium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus. It can be advertised as electrolyte water or as pH water. While many electrolyte water brands are well known, do your research: make sure you can trust the company and that it’s more than glorified H2O from the tap.
No surprise, our favorite electrolyte replacement drink is O2 Recovery. The beauty of O2 is that you get the great taste of sports drinks, the purity of water and the extra benefits of being oxygenated. O2 has no artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives, yet it delivers 1.5 times the electrolytes of leading sports drinks, rivaling the pH and hydration benefits of IV fluid you’d get from a doctor. After a tough set, crack open an O2, quench your thirst, and get the best source of electrolytes for your body.