Electrolytes: Why You Need Them and How to Get Them

Proper hydration is critical not only for general body functions but also for optimal performance during exercise. While consuming enough water should be your first priority, there are times when our bodies need added sugars and electrolytes to maintain energy levels and hydration status during exercise.

How Dehydration Affects Your Workout
When you exercise, your heart rate starts to increase and causes you to sweat. Sweating is critical as it’s the body’s natural cooling mechanism. While sweat is primarily made up of water, it also contains large amounts of electrolytes as well as sodium, and chloride.

Electrolytes not only play a large role in the muscle contraction process, but they also regulate fluid levels in your body and help maintain hydration. Being dehydrated as little as 2% can impair your performance, which is why it’s important to replenish electrolytes while you exercise.

Water vs. Sports Drinks
Water is the preferred fuel for hydration if you are having a rest day or doing a light workout. If you have a very active day, engage in sports, or exercise for more than 60 minutes, your body will need the electrolytes from a sports drink to replenish the liquid lost through sweat.

Sports drinks are a convenient and efficient way to hydrate and consume key nutrients during intense exercise. A carbohydrate-electrolyte drink increases athletic performance by elevating blood sugar and maintaining high rates of carbohydrate oxidation, ultimately preventing fatigue, and reducing perceived exertion.

Enhance Your Hydration

What to Look for in a Sports Drink
Not all sports drinks are the same. Here’s what to look for in an 8-ounce fluid sports drink:

  • 8–16 grams of sugars (from glucose and sucrose, in a 3–6% carbohydrate solution)
  • 80–160 milligrams of sodium

Other added electrolytes and vitamins are great additions, but these two should be your top priority. This will ensure you’re drinking what your body needs and not overpaying for flavored water.

Sugar isn’t bad in a sports drink when taken correctly for its functional use. Just remember: If you aren’t exercising strenuously enough to deplete nutrients and water, sports drinks can add excess calories to your diet.

How to Stay Hydrated
When it comes to proper hydration, we generally recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day, but you should also factor in your age, size, gender, and physical activity level to determine how much water you should drink. For instance, an athlete in training needs more water than a person living a sedentary lifestyle.

When you start exercising, switch to something with electrolytes to maintain proper hydration. If you are exercising in extreme heat, make sure you are not losing too much water weight. Weigh yourself pre- and post-training. As a general rule, for every pound of water weight lost during a workout, drink 16 ounces of water post-workout.