First, I want to make sure everyone knows what we’re talking about when we say, “electrolytes.” Claiming something has electrolytes in it is actually just a fancy way of saying it contains vitamins and minerals. Sodium and potassium, for example, are electrolytes. Ditto magnesium and calcium. And vitamin C… and all the B-vitamins. I think you get the idea.
When you see those sports drinks commercials like Gatorade or Powerade, and they say they’re chock full of electrolytes, it just means they tossed some vitamins and minerals into their drinks.
Most folks don’t need to worry too much about consuming these sports drinks and getting these extra electrolytes in after their workouts. This is because most of us are not spending that many hours each day being active. But for those that are highly active, replacing some of the vitamins and minerals your body loses through sweat can be beneficial, especially if you are experiencing some muscle cramping. This is usually a giveaway.
What About Adding Sea Salt or Sodium Tablets?
When a highly active individual experiences muscle cramping when they are exercising, it’s likely due to a lack of available sodium (or salt) in their body. But I would recommend against consuming extra sodium by way of tablets or sea salt. Instead, I would actually consider buying some of the readily available sports drinks. This is because, believe it or not, these have been tested on athletes.
Think for a moment where the term “Gatorade” actually came from. This drink was created for the University of Florida football players. These athletes were training in August, in the Florida heat and humidity, wearing all of their gear, and performing intense activity for hours at a time. When two physicians were approached to figure out a way to help the University of Florida football players avoid heat stroke and perform optimally, they created this drink, after much trial and error, that included water, electrolytes, and some glucose (sugar). They found that it helped their athletes improve tremendously. Gatorade was born. Oh, and by the way, what’s the University of Florida’s team mascot? The Gators. That’s why the drink was named Gatorade – it was designed to aid the University of Florida Gators. Get it? Clever, eh?
Now, I’m not saying you have to use Gatorade, specifically. Since its introduction, many other companies have copied its formula. Not only that, other products like Pedialyte for example, would work just fine, too.
If sugar and extra calories are a concern for you, there’s no need to drink it straight–just dilute the drink by adding some extra water.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has also weighed in on the use of sports drinks. ACSM is considered the gold standard when it comes to exercise science and sports nutrition. Here’s a direct quote from them:
Consumption of sports beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes before, during, and after exercise can provide fuel for muscles and decrease risk of dehydration…
Now, I want to be very clear: I usually do not recommend sports drinks for the average athlete or gym goer. This is because most of us don’t need the extra calories, sugar, and electrolytes.
Oh, and one more thing: we’re also finding that colder beverages (ranging from 40-50°F) are absorbed more quickly when compared to those at room temperature. For anyone looking to rehydrate their bodies fast after a workout, be sure that the water or sports drink is chilled before drinking it.