Electrolyte Supplements Are All the Rage, but Can You Go Overboard on Them? (In Short: Yes)

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Electrolytes have been taking the nutrition industry by storm over the last couple years, and for a good reason. Supplementing with electrolytes can be incredibly helpful for folks who are at risk for dehydration, live in hot and humid climates, and active folks or athletes. But it begs the question: Can you overdose on electrolytes? There is, after all, such a thing as too much of a good thing. In the past, it would have been hard to consume too many electrolytes, but not anymore.

Until recently, the electrolyte landscape was pretty much occupied by big name sports drinks like Powerade and Gatorade. While these drinks offer a great source of energy through quick-digesting sugars and small amounts of electrolytes, new formulas on the market have changed the game.

Experts In This Article

You can now find electrolytes with lots of added nutrients and other ingredients. You may notice claims like no added sugar, adaptogenic mushrooms, collagen or protein powder, greens powders — the list goes on and on. With so many options on the market, we can’t help but wonder how to choose the right electrolyte powder for you and whether or not there are any risk to taking these powders consistently.

We spoke to dietitians and nutrition experts to find out exactly what they recommend when it comes to consuming electrolytes regularly and any major precautions you should take when approaching these supplements.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are a group of essential minerals that we can get from our diet—namely sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. They aid in moving liquid from our blood vessels into our cells to cater to our hydration and fluid needs. These nutrients have a range of roles, like maintaining proper hydration, transmitting nerve signals, triggering muscle contractions, and regulating the body's pH. Disturbing your body’s electrolyte balance can give rise to serious health risks, as it influences blood pressure, heart rate, and your energy levels.

“When individual sweat, they lose both fluid and electrolytes, the main electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium,” says Mandy Tyler, RD, CSSD, LD. “Thus, when choosing an electrolyte powder my first priority is to check the sodium content. To a lesser extent, individuals also lose potassium and other electrolytes such as calcium and magnesium, which are also frequently added to electrolyte powders.”

Can you overdose on electrolytes?

You can in fact overdose on electrolytes, and there are subsets of people who should definitely steer clear of these products. Overdosing on electrolytes can lead to serious health issues such as heart problems, muscle weakness, and confusion due to imbalances in sodium, potassium, and calcium levels.

If doctors or dietitian have recommended you follow a low sodium diet, for example, you may want to be cautious of the type of electrolyte drink you consume. Fortunately, many of the products on the market do not have sodium, so you will have some options to choose from.

Similarly, f you have a history of heart disease, kidney disease, or blood pressure concerns, it’s important to speak with your doctor or a dietitian about whether or not these products are safe for you.

While it is very unlikely that someone could consume too many electrolytes by eating unprocessed foods, it is possible to get too much from other sources, according to Kaytee Hadley, RDN, IFMCP, CPT. “The two ways to overdose on electrolytes are from supplementation and by consuming foods that have a lot of added salt,” she says.

Sodium recommendations

The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,300 mg per day or about a teaspoon of added sodium. If you have a diagnosed heart condition or risk for heart disease, the recommendation for you personally may be a little bit lower. Speak with your doctor to get personalized medical advice before introducing an electrolyte supplement.

“Many processed foods have a lot of added salt, which can wreak havoc for someone who isn’t sweating regularly. Consuming too much sodium in this concentrated form can also be dangerous because there is not enough of the other electrolytes, such as potassium, to provide balance within the body,” Hadley offers.

Remember, sodium is just one of the many electrolytes and you can get a variety of the others without increasing your salt intake.

Who is most at risk of overdosing on electrolytes

Not everyone should include electrolytes in their diet. In fact, due to their recent surge in popularity, there could be individuals who are ingesting electrolytes unnecessarily or even harmfully. “Electrolyte supplements may be harmful for anyone with heart or kidney disease,” says Allison Dobbyn, MAN, RD. “The additional sodium and potassium in the electrolyte powders may cause your body to accumulate extra fluid and potassium.”

An imbalance in electrolyte levels can escalate into severe or fatal conditions if it affects your vital measures like blood pressure, heart rate, or kidney function. So if you have a kidney or cardiovascular condition, electrolytes may not be the appropriate choice for you. If your medical professional has ever advised a low-sodium diet, it's worth considering electrolyte formulas that are devoid of significant salt content.

Other risk factors for an electrolyte overdose include having kidney disease, prolonged exercise, cocaine use, potassium-conserving diuretics, chemotherapy, diabetes, or severe burns, explains Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT. The symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance can vary depending on which mineral is out of balance, but many share similar symptoms such as agitation, dry mouth and thirst, restlessness, confusion or difficulty with cognition, muscle weakness or spasms, she says.

Who should use electrolytes?

These products can be a great fit for folks who spend a lot of time outdoors in the heat, or excessively sweating, engaging in long-term endurance activity, or playing a sport. Folks who have increased needs for electrolytes above the recommended daily allowance include:

  • Athletes
  • People with cystic fibrosis
  • Manual labor workers in hot working conditions
  • People engaging in endurance activities
  • People with active bulimia or purging eating disorders

For exercise lasting less than two hours, drinking 400–800 ml of plain water per hour should be sufficient for most people to prevent excessive dehydration (or more than 2-percent body weight loss from water deficit), explains Melissa Boufounos, CHN, sports nutritionist and founder of MB Performance Nutrition.

For individuals who engage in physical activity frequently under hot and humid circumstances or work out for durations exceeding two hours, it is advised by experts to track fluctuations in their body weight by weighing in before and after activity. This monitoring helps in gauging their personal rate of sweating during specific exercises and weather situations.

“On average, you lose about 500 milligrams of sodium for every pound of sweat you lose. In general, the recommendation is to consume 230 to 690 milligrams of sodium per liter of water/sports drink to increase the urge to drink and promote fluid retention,” says Boufounos.

Foods with naturally occurring electrolytes

If you’re interested in dabbling in the world of electrolytes, but don’t want to take a supplement, consider adding these food and drinks into your rotation.

  • Coconut water is a good source of potassium, magnesium, and sodium.
  • Pickle juice is a good source of sodium.
  • Milk is a good source of potassium and phosphorus.
  • Chocolate contains magnesium, potassium, and may contain sodium.
  • Nuts contain magnesium and if you purchase salted, will contain sodium.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain potassium and some vegetables like leafy greens contain sodium.

“In terms of choosing what form of electrolyte powders, go with what works for you,” Tyler advises. “If cost is a factor, consider buying the loose powder in a large container and individually portioning yourself. If you need something that can be thrown into a gym bag, the individual serving size packets or tablets work great.”

Electrolyte supplement brand recommendations

  • Cure: Made with coconut water, this brand is a wonderful natural electrolyte supplement.
  • Liquid IV: Liquid IV is great for folks who need the added sugars for muscle repletion. “Added carbohydrates can be beneficial for individuals who will be participating in endurance exercise or participating in team sports for over an hour. The carbohydrates provide added energy for the exercising muscles,” Tyler shares.
  • RDCL: In addition to electrolytes, you’ll get a boost from the added caffeine in these.
  • LMNT: This no-sugar-added option is high in sodium and great for folks who spend a lot of time sweating, engage in intense exercise, or follow a low-carb eating style.
  • Ultima: Popular among runners, this brand is also relatively low in sodium.

Can you make your own electrolyte powder?

Crafting your own electrolyte blend is a simple and more cost-effective approach compared to purchasing a pre-packaged one, you can opt for natural sources of electrolytes such as coconut water and orange juice. Enhance the flavor by adding a hint of salt along with a dash of lemon or lime juice according to your taste preferences.

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