What Are Electrolytes and Their Benefits?

by Adel

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that are absorbed by the body from the food and drinks we consume. According to MedlinePlus, the main electrolytes are Sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium. 

So, What do Electrolytes Do?

Here is a list of the main functions of electrolytes in the body:

  • Balance the fluid levels in the body
  • Keep the blood pH normal (7.35-7.45 pH)
  • Send signals between nerves, muscles and the heart
  • Movie nutrients into cells
  • Move waste out of cells

Clearly electrolytes are important. Normally people will get enough electrolytes through a regular diet. Below is a table with the different electrolytes and how to get them naturally. Information is provided by ods.NIH.gov:

Sources of Electrolytes:

SodiumBread, soups, chicken, cheese and eggs,
CalciumMilk, yogurt, kale, broccoli and most grains
PotassiumPotatoes, many fruits and vegetables, milk, coffee and tea
ChlorideSeaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery and olives
PhosphateMeats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, vegetables and grains
MagnesiumSpinach, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains

Why Use Sports Drinks?

The two of the most common causes for electrolyte imbalance are sickness (through vomiting or diarrhea) or extreme exercise. Both these situations cause the body to lose a lot of fluid, possibly leading to dehydration. Some of the first signs of dehydration are fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle cramps and low energy. Proper rehydration needs both liquids and electrolytes, in come sports drinks. Sports drinks contain electrolytes allowing them to act as quick rehydration for the body. The fluid and the electrolytes help the body return to homeostasis, or equilibrium.

Does It Matter Which Drink I use?

Yes. There a lot of different brands of sports drinks, and even different types within each brand and not all are created equal. It is important to look at the labels to see what electrolytes and how much of them the drinks contain. Here is an example below of three very popular brands of sports drinks and the differences between them.

what are electrolytes

In fact, looking at the nutrition facts of the drinks shows that they are not a significant source of some electrolytes, or in some cases, ANY electrolytes.

One example of this is Smart Water. The front of many of their bottles indicate that the electrolytes are just for taste, and the nutrition facts show the same thing. 

Other companies are not as forthcoming. Powerade is a great example of this. In the front of one of its drinks, the Powerade ® Zero Sugar Watermelon Berry, the front label shows the electrolytes found in the drink. When looking at the nutrition facts at the back label (or the website) however, you can see that the only electrolyte it provides a significant amount of is sodium.

what are electrolytes and their benefits?
what are electrolytes and their benefits?

There are also disparities between the different flavors of a brand’s own drink. The best example I found of this is with Vitamin Water. The different flavors of the zero sugar series have different nutritional information. This may be expected with different flavors, but it is still important to keep in mind when choosing what drink to purchase.Below are pictures of the nutrition facts for the Squeezed (Lemonade), Revive (Fruit Punch) and Reset (Pinapple Coconut) from left to right.

what are electrolytes and their benefits?
what are electrolytes and their benefits?
what are electrolytes and their benefits?

So What Should I Drink?

Even with the shortfalls of some of the normal sports drinks, like Gatorade, Vitamin Water and Powerade, they still provide some level of electrolytes, and depending on the situation, it may be enough. Remember, most people will get what they need from their daily diets. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, if you are not doing intense workouts, you most likely do not need to worry about electrolytes. If you are looking for stronger alternatives, there are many dietary supplements you can look into, but again, make sure to read the labels for these too.

If you need electrolytes for medical reasons, it is best to consult a doctor. Some of the regular sports drinks may not be good enough to help with certain conditions. And some of them have added sugar and other ingredients, which may be harmful to a sick person.

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