The first time I was made aware of electrolyte drinks, I was a kid and my parents were pushing Gatorade on me after tennis practice. These days, the neon beverage is still handed out on the sidelines of marathons, and plenty of special waters are branded with “extra electrolytes.”
“Studies show that most people enter into the gym in a dehydrated state,” says sports nutritionist and The Vitamin Shoppe expert Jacob Wilson, PhD. “When we sweat along with fluids we also lose electrolytes. During vigorous exercise the average person loses one-and-a-half liters of sweat per hour on top of this.” Yes, replenishing your body with fluids high in electrolytes is, in fact, important.
But have you noticed that most electrolyte drinks out there tend to be coupled with a heck of a lot of sugar? If you’re working out intensely—running a half marathon or perhaps taking a spin class—that added sugar serves a purpose. “For quick energy, you want rapid digestion and quick blood-sugar spikes—so sugar from refined foods,” trainer-nutritionist Albert Matheny, MS, RD, previously told Well+Good. But for a typical workout, you likely don’t need electrolyte drinks with any added sugar.
“Following exercise it is recommended to consume about one to 2 grams of sodium, an essential electrolyte which would range from two-and-a-half to 5 grams of table salt,” Dr. Wilson says. “For the electrolyte potassium, we would recommend 500 to 600 milligrams of potassium which can be found in a cup of coconut water, a large banana or two cups of yogurt.” Wilson explains that this is important because sodium carries out electrical signals that allow our muscles to contract but also for rehydration. “Specifically sodium and potassium help retain fluid in the extra and intracellular spaces,” he says.
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