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How do I Choose the Best Electrolyte Drink?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Choosing the best electrolyte drink is usually a matter of understanding why the drink could be valuable to you and then researching your options, paying close attention to things like nutrient content and added sugar. Ingredient labels can sometimes be a bit confusing to read, but making sense of the chemical names and understanding what, if anything, they add to the drink can help you identify the one that is the ideal — for you, at least. It’s important to remember that “best” is a subjective term, and what’s best for you might not be best for someone else. Still, things like ingredients and chemical additives are pretty universal. Avoiding or limiting sugars while looking for the most robust electrolyte balance often yields a nutritionally superior drink, which qualifies as “best” for most people. If you aren’t able to find a product that meets your specifications at the store, you may be able to make your own at home.

Understand the Drink

Before selecting an electrolyte drink, it is important to understand what exactly it is, who needs to consume it, and what the basic differences are between the various options. There are usually many different brands and competing products in any given market. Knowing why you want this sort of drink is one of the best ways to narrow down the field. For example, some drinks are primarily sugar-based with only minimal nutrients, while others are full of minerals that work to the benefit of the body. Others contain amino acids or boast that they are full of proteins.

Most of the time each is geared to a specific audience. Athletes are some of the most common consumers, but people who spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly if they’re doing a lot of physical work, might also reach for this sort of drink to replenish some of the salts they’re losing through sweat.

Electrolytes are minerals in the body that keep an electric charge, transporting nutrients to cells and exporting wastes away from cells. Generally, an electrolyte drink is a beverage that replaces essential electrolytes and minerals that are lost during long periods of vigorous exercise. For shorter or less vigorous workouts, water is often a fine choice; however, for endurance athletes and people exercising in extreme conditions, a drink that includes electrolytes may become essential. If you’re simply thirsty, grabbing this type of drink may not be the best choice, and probably isn’t going to give you any sort of nutritional “edge.”

Consider the Electrolyte Ratio

The three main minerals that most people lose during strenuous exercise are sodium, chloride, and potassium. Magnesium and calcium are also lost, though not usually in large amounts. Taking a close look at the list of electrolytes in the drinks you’re considering will help you make a good comparison, and will also highlight some of the differences between brands. There are a few drinks that replace all of these essential minerals. Many only replace a few, sometimes only in trace amounts. It’s usually a good idea to choose the one that replaces the most minerals in the largest amounts.

Look for Limited Sugar

Many of these drinks contain carbohydrates, which work to fuel the body. Although some sports drinks are very high in sugar, which is a simple carbohydrate, studies have shown that even top athletes do not require more than 6% of these substances in their drinks. In most cases, carbohydrates simply mean added calories, and many manufacturers add them in for taste. Unless an athlete is training for a long period of time or in dry, hot conditions, more than 6 to 8% carbohydrate per serving is too much.

Difference Between Amino Acids and Proteins

Some beverages also boast that they have protein, which can make them seem more attractive. Keep in mind, though, that studies have shown that this is not essential in a sports drink. Although a beverage with protein may promote endurance and lower damage to the muscles, researchers often recommend consuming drinks containing amino acids instead. Amino acids are essential parts of proteins, but are much more elemental.

Many sports drinks contain essential amino acids, such as glutamine, leucine, valine, and isoleucine, as an alternative to protein. With these drinks, your body will get many of the benefits protein without the problems associated with actually consuming protein, such as digestive distress.

Homemade Options

Some people may quickly become overwhelmed by the choices available, the complexity of the ingredient labeling, or both. If you are in this category, you might find that the easiest way to save money and replenish some of the electrolytes you’re losing is to mix together a few ingredients and create a homemade drink. There are a lot of possible recipes, but most are pretty simple. One basic drink requires you to mix 2 quarts (1.9 l) of water with 0.5 cup (114.96 g) of sugar, 0.5 teaspoon (2.373 g) of salt, and 0.4 cup (4.04 oz) of orange juice. Alternately, some studies have shown that drinking a glass of chocolate milk provides the same benefits as most sports drinks. Whether it is made from scratch or purchased from a store, make sure it tastes good or else it may be difficult to consume.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon993301 — On Nov 02, 2015

Electrolytes are best used when replaced accordingly. You really should get a sweat test first to see what your body needs. I've tried Levelen, and it's done wonders for my hockey training.

By brthomas — On May 14, 2012

I make a homemade electrolyte hydration drink from diluted apple juice, vinegar, stevia and lite salt for sodium and potassium electrolytes.

By DinoLeash — On Jul 17, 2010

I know it might sound silly but I buy Pedialyte and use it as my electrolyte supplement. I even buy the Pedialyte popsicles.

By calabama71 — On Jul 17, 2010

@carrotisland: My husband takes a liter of water and adds ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. sea salt, 2 Tbsp. agave nectar, and the juice of a lemon. I don’t know how it tastes but he drinks it religiously!

By alex94 — On Jul 17, 2010

@carrotisland: A recipe that I’ve used often is: use 1 scoop of frozen orange juice, ½ tsp. of baking soda, a couple of pinches of salt, 1 B12 vitamin, 1 Magnesium tablet, fructose to taste. Mix it all together and then let it sit overnight. Shake it really good the next morning and drink up! I usually have that and a banana in the mornings.

By CarrotIsland — On Jul 17, 2010

Is there a way to make a homemade electrolyte drink?

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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