Store shelves are lined with them, gas station coolers are filled with them, and they are marketed in just about every sporting event known to man with advertisements lining the fields. But, is there really a need for these electrolyte replacement drinks we see everywhere? Do physical activity and an electrolyte replacement drink go hand-in-hand?
First, it’s important to understand why electrolytes are important. Dr. Audra Foster, a licensed, board-certified doctor of Naturopathic Medicine who is considered a Primary Care Physician in the state of California, explains that electrolytes are minerals in our body that help power function ranging from our heartbeat, breathing, fluid balance, and oxygen delivery. Our bodies are constantly striving for a balance of electrolytes, also referred to as electrolyte homeostasis.
Who Needs to Focus on Electrolyte Replacement?
Under normal conditions, Dr. Foster says that our bodies have no difficulty maintaining electrolyte homeostasis. However, under some conditions ranging from excessive sweating or water intake, vomiting, diarrhea, and even some hormonal disorders, replacing electrolytes may be necessary.
It is most common for people to reach for these “sports drinks” when they are working out or participating in physical activity. However, electrolyte replacement drinks may not be necessary and may be contributing to excess sugar and calorie consumption that is not truly needed.
For the average exerciser, who participates in an hour or so of exercise daily, it is unlikely you need electrolyte replacements. Only those participating in vigorous exercise, or exercise in extremely hot environments where sodium is lost through excessive sweat, are likely to suffer from electrolyte deficiencies. In these cases, in order to avoid symptoms like decreased performance, heat cramps, and other heat-related illnesses, an electrolyte replacement drink might be needed. However, it’s important to know what’s in your electrolyte replacement drink before guzzling down one of these enhanced beverages.
What to Avoid in Electrolyte Replacement Drinks
After a vigorous workout (more than an hour of intense sweat), electrolytes are what your body needs. What your body doesn’t need are unnecessary ingredients like artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial additives, and fructose. Dr. Foster explains that artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium are “associated with a wide variety of serious health hazards. Color additives like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are derived from petroleum and are linked to extensive health hazards.” Also, be on the lookout for potentially harmful ingredients used for texture like Propylene Glycol, Potassium Benzoate, Polysorbate 60, Polysorbate 80, Calcium disodium EDTA—many of which are rated as health hazards by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Also, check the label on the listed sugar content. While you may need to replace sodium lost, an excess of sugar post-workout can be a setback to your wellness goals.