food & drinks

Sugar as an Electrolyte

Sugar is often portrayed as the enemy of all wellness routines. And while excessive consumption of sugar is not great, does one really need to cut sugar out all the time? Is there ever a time when sugar, in moderation, can be beneficial?

In reality, sugar actually has powerful hydration powers. Read on to learn more about sugar and how it works with electrolytes to help you feel and perform your best. 

 

 

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals [1]. They’re present throughout the tissues of the body, as well as in the urine, blood, and other bodily fluids. You can’t live without them and they help conduct electrical signals (hence the “electro” in the name) throughout the body, enabling you to walk, run, jump, swim, think, and do everything else you do.

lady swimming in the pool

Sodium, calcium, chloride, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium are minerals that act as electrolytes. We get these minerals from a variety of foods and beverages, including the following [2]:


  • Fruits
  • Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Coconut water
  • Tomato juice

Many traditional sports drinks and electrolyte drink mixes also contain supplemental electrolytes. They provide a higher dose of minerals than what most people can get from their diets alone and are especially popular among athletes, gym-goers, and other active individuals.

 

Why Do Electrolytes Matter?

Electrolytes play important roles in so many bodily functions, including these [3]:


  • Balancing fluid levels
  • Balancing pH levels
  • Moving nutrients into the cells
  • Moving waste products out of the cells

Proper electrolyte balance is essential in helping the nerves, muscles, heart, and brain to work properly, too. However, we lose electrolytes primarily through our sweat and urine. Because they do so much in our bodies, it’s important to make sure we’re replenishing them on a regular basis to avoid dehydration and other health issues. 

 

 

Is Sugar an Electrolyte?

Sugar is not technically an electrolyte. However, glucose (a simple sugar that comes from food and drinks) does help with the absorption of electrolytes and makes it easier for them to do their various jobs [4]. 

When consumed in the proper amounts, electrolytes and sugar can work together to support optimal hydration. That’s why you’ll often find sugar included in sports drinks and electrolyte drinks. 

 

 

How Does Sugar Help with Hydration?

Why can you benefit from combining sugar and electrolytes? Explained below is some of the science behind the sugar-electrolyte connection:

 

Sugar Supports Water and Nutrient Absorption

Sugar can help to speed up the rehydration process. In the small intestine, sodium transport and glucose transport work together [5]. Glucose accelerates these processes so that water and electrolytes can get into the cells faster. It activates the body’s sodium-glucose co-transport mechanism. Simply put, this is a molecular pump in the digestive tract (or gut).

The wall of the gut, specifically the small intestine, contains transporter proteins. When these proteins encounter a 2:1 ratio of sodium to glucose molecules, the transporter proteins are activated. This causes the sodium and glucose molecules to be pumped into the bloodstream.

In the body, water will work hard to become and stay balanced. Because of this, it will move to areas where more particles are present. When there are higher concentrations of glucose and sodium in the bloodstream, water will move into the bloodstream as well through osmosis. As a result, the absorption of nutrients and water speeds up and you can rehydrate faster.

 

Sugar Provides Energy

Glucose and electrolytes can also work together to increase your energy levels and boost your stamina.

Glucose and Energy

Glucose is a simple sugar. The brain, neurons (nerve cells), and red blood cells all need glucose for energy [6]. If you aren’t consuming glucose, your body will have to use its stored glucose (or glycogen) for energy. When glycogen stores are depleted, it will eventually turn to the muscle tissue for energy. 

Electrolytes and Energy

Proper electrolyte balance is also important for maintaining adequate energy levels. Electrolytes themselves do not increase energy. However, they do support hydration. 

Without sufficient electrolyte levels, you run a greater risk of becoming dehydrated. When you’re dehydrated, you’ll be more prone to fatigue and will have a harder time staying energized, both during workouts and as you’re just going about your day [7].

 

 

Is It Possible to Have Too Much Sugar?

At this point, you’re likely starting to see that sugar can be beneficial, especially to athletes and folks who may be prone to dehydration. 

added sugar

It’s important to note, though, that we’re not trying to give you a free pass to eat and drink all the sugar you want. Excessive sugar intake (specifically added sugar, rather than natural occuring sugars found in foods like fruit or honey) is linked to a variety of health problems, including the following [8]:


  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased chronic inflammation
  • Increased risk of weight gain and obesity
  • Increased risk of fatty liver disease
  • Increased risk of tooth decay

In short, it is absolutely possible to eat too much sugar. That’s why the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (or 36 grams) of added sugar per day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) of added sugar per day for women [9]. We know that a little sugar is helpful when it comes to supporting hydration and absorption. When you overdo it on sugar, though, you might not be doing your body as many favors as you think you are. 

 

 

Do You Need Electrolyte and Sugar Supplementation?

How do you know if you need to supplement with additional electrolytes and sugar?


If you’re showing signs of dehydration, the combination of electrolytes and a small amount of sugar can help you to rehydrate and feel better faster. Here are some of the most common signs of dehydration to keep in mind and watch for when you’re out and about [11]:


  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness  

It might be helpful to keep supplemental electrolytes on hand if you (or someone in your family) is a member of a group that has a higher risk of becoming dehydrated. Some folks who might be more prone to dehydration include [12, 13]:


  • Those who live at higher altitudes
  • Athletes, especially endurance athletes (marathoners, triathletes, and cyclists) and those who exercise outdoors)
  • Older adults
  • Infants and children
  • Breastfeeding mothers
  • People who take medications that increase sweat or urine production
  • People who work outdoors (such as construction workers and lawn care workers)

Do you fall into any of the categories listed above? Do you have a loved one who does? If so, it’s a good idea to have electrolytes mixes (preferably combined with a few grams of sugar) at the ready.

 

 

How to Supplement with Electrolytes and Sugar

You can see that supplementation might benefit you or someone in your life. 

How do you promote speedy rehydration and reduce the risk of dehydration, though? How do you make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes without overdoing it on sugar?

If you’re concerned about hydration and want to maintain healthy electrolyte levels, here are some tips to remember:

 

Start with Food

Eating a balanced diet that contains lots of electrolyte-rich foods and drinks (like those listed above) is a good starting point when it comes to maintaining proper electrolyte balance. For people who aren’t particularly active or prone to dehydration, this might be sufficient.  

 

Plan Ahead

If you’re part of an at-risk group, electrolytes from your diet alone might not be enough to keep you hydrated. It’s also not practical to constantly be counting the number of milligrams of sodium, potassium, and magnesium in your food to make sure you’re getting a sufficient amount. 

drink mixes Hydrant

This is where pre-packaged electrolyte drink mixes come in handy (like Hydrant!). If you keep drink mixes at the ready, you can easily toss them in your bag and then add them to your water when you’re starting to experience signs of dehydration. Plus, they’re delicious and can help you feel hydrated quickly and efficiently. Our mixes were scientifically formulated to help activate the sodium glucose co-transport mechanism to rapidly hydrate you.

 

Hydrate During Activities

Proactive hydration is essential, especially if you’re someone who’s prone to dehydration. Don’t wait until you’re already experiencing signs of dehydration to supplement with electrolytes and sugar. If you consume fluids and electrolytes throughout your activities, you’ll have an easier time staying hydrated and keeping dehydration at bay.

 

 

Add a Little Sweetness to Your Drinks Today

In moderation, sugar can play a crucial role in helping you to stay hydrated, and energized. Remember to do what’s right for your body and lifestyle, and enjoy a glass of Hydrant to help you feel hydrated along the way! 

 

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Sources

[1] U.S. National Library of Medicine. Fluid and Electrolyte Balance. https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
[2] Medical News Today. Foods That Are High in Electrolytes. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/electrolytes-food
[3] Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. What Do Electrolytes Do? https://www.medicinenet.com/electrolytes/article.htm
[4] Rehydration Project. Oral Rehydration Therapy. http://rehydrate.org/ors/ort.htm
[5] Jeukendrup A. E. (2017). Training the Gut for Athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(Suppl 1), 101–110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0690-6
[6] Giridharan N. V. (2018). Glucose & energy homeostasis: Lessons from animal studies. The Indian journal of medical research, 148(5), 659–669. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1737_18
[7] Harvard Medical School. Fight Fatigue with Fluids. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/fight-fatigue-with-fluids
[8] Harvard Medical School. The Sweet Danger of Sugar. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
[9] American Heart Association. How Much Sugar Is Too Much? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much
[10] Schaefer, Anna. Is Gatorade Bad for You? https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-gatorade-bad-for-you#cons-of-gatorade
[11] Medical News Today. What You Should Know About Dehydration. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153363#_noHeaderPrefixedContent 
[12] U.S. National Library of Medicine. Dehydration. https://medlineplus.gov/dehydration.html
[13] 5 People Most Likely to Become Dehydrated. https://blackdoctor.org/5-people-most-likely-to-become-dehydrated/2/

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