Do electrolytes in hydration beverages give boosts of energy? We’ve seen that hydration plays a key role in keeping you healthy and active, but where do electrolytes come into play?
Electrolytes have become a buzzword amongst the health-conscious and active, thanks to the prevalence of sport drinks and coconut waters that claim to provide them. But do electrolytes in sports and energy drinks do anything? What are electrolytes?
We know it’s difficult to wade through the tide of misinformation and myths about what electrolytes are, and why they’re essential to rehydration. Here’s a quick run down of why electrolytes are key to effective hydration.
The Electrolyte Myth of Hydration Science
Some sport drinks claim that they provide electrolytes to give you extra energy during exercise. Electrolytes themselves are not what give you a boost of energy . The energy provided by most sports drinks—that immediate burst of good vibes—comes instead from large quantities of sugar or caffeine, or is else placebo effect .
Outside of the sports arena though, the role that electrolytes play in energizing you is really just related to being fully hydrated. When you're dehydrated you get fatigued very quickly. Hydrating quickly, which is helped by having some electrolytes in what you're drinking, will re-energize you effectively!
Electrolytes are also crucial to your health. This analogy may help: Think of your body as a car (the volkswagen bus is our personal favorite!). If carbohydrates and fats are fuel, electrolytes are engine oil, equally (albeit less visibly), essential to smooth running.
Let’s dive deeper into the precise role electrolytes play in keeping you healthy.
What are Electrolytes?
Let’s first look at what electrolytes are. Electrolytes are ions (charged particles) such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium that play key roles in controlling the volume of water inside your cells and blood vessels and in promoting proper nerve and muscle function.
Maintaining a healthy equilibrium (or amount) of electrolytes is key to preventing your cells from shrinking or expanding too much, based on their water content. (Your body is as picky as Goldilocks—it prefers to have a cell-water content just right.) A healthy electrolyte equilibrium is also crucial to creating effective nerve impulses and muscle contractions: A tiny electric current is created with the movement of electrolytes in and between cells, allowing impulses to jump synapses and muscles to contract .
How Do You Lose Electrolytes?
Crucial as they are to our health, electrolytes are easily lost through sweat. Just as they help pull water in and out of cells, electrolytes play a role in drawing sweat out of pores and onto the surface of your skin. Electrolytes may also be lost through urine, or lost with vomiting or diarrhoea.
The loss of electrolytes may result in immediate, noticeable symptoms. The more you sweat, the more water and electrolytes you lose, the less able your body is at maintaining blood pressure, nerve impulses, and muscle contractions. In addition, the more electrolytes you lose, the less your body is able to tolerate high temperatures . Put simply, the more electrolytes you lose, the more your body’s performance declines.
Loss of specific electrolytes have specific consequences. When levels of potassium are too low, it is thought that people can start experiencing muscle weakness, muscle cramps, or muscle twitches. At extremely low levels, your heart may begin to beat in an abnormal way . When levels of sodium are too low, you may begin to feel sluggish and tired .
Why Do You Need Electrolytes?
In addition to their essential roles in blood pressure, muscle contraction, and nerve functionality, electrolytes are essential to rehydration, especially after diarrhoea. A study in 2002 showed that healthy adults recovered the volume of fluid circulating in their blood vessels quicker with an electrolyte drink, compared to those who drank only water .
But how do you get electrolytes, without the added sugar and caffeine common in sports drinks and coconut waters? Hydrant makes it ridiculously easy to make sure you’re getting the right balance of hydration electrolytes when you need them most.
Writer: James Gunnell
Editor: Elizabeth Trelstad, www.hellobeaker.com
1. “Does Gatorade Give You Energy?” Janelle Commins. Healthfully. This article explains how energy drinks such as Gatorade function.
2. ‘Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?’ Pediatrics Volume 127, Issue 6. This is a review of scientific literature published from 2000 to 2009 by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
3. “What Are Electrolytes and Why Do We Need Them?” Andrea Levi. This article explains how electrolytes are lost in the context of exercise and the importance of proper rehydration.
4. “Fluid and electrolyte supplementation for exercise and heat stress” Michael Sawka and Scott Montain. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This review covers the effects of dehydration and ion loss.
5. “Hypokalaemia (Low Level of Potassium in the Blood)” James Lewis. MSD Manual. An article on Hypokalemia, detailing the consequences of low potassium.
6. “Why is low blood sodium a health concern for older adults? How is it treated?” Paul Takahashi. Mayo Clinic. An article detailing the consequences of low sodium.