Do We Really Need Sports Drinks When Working Out?


Whether you’re doing your HIIT session, running a race, or just doing your regular workout, chances are at some point, you’ll reach out for a bottle of electrolytes — Pedialyte, Nuun, Essentia, or Gatorade. Because hey, we need not just to rehydrate, right? We need electrolytes to solve all our workout problems.
But what do we really know about electrolytes except what they say in a Gatorade commercial? Besides, sports drinks have been criticized for having excessive amounts of added sugar. But you know what? Electrolytes are really important to our body.

What are electrolytes?

Medical News Today define electrolyte as a substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in water. Electrolytes are important for a number of bodily functions and for all humans to survive. Medical News Today adds that many automatic processes in the body rely on a small electric current to function, and electrolytes provide this charge. Electrolytes interact with each other and the cells in the tissues, nerves, and muscles. A balance of different electrolytes is vital for healthy function.

Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, CSSD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University says electrolytes are particles that help the body maintain its fluid balance, by “keeping fluids in the correct compartments.” (Read: Electrolytes help to keep fluid inside of our blood vessels.)

According to MedlinePlus, electrolytes affect the acidity of the blood, the muscle function, and how waste and nutrients move between cells. They are ions that carry an electric charge.
We get electrolytes when we eat and drink. Some electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, and magnesium.
“Sodium is found in table salt, chips, pretzels, soup, canned and packaged foods, sports drinks, and nuts,” Dr. Pritchett says.
“Potassium is found primarily in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, milk, strawberries, bananas, avocados, coconut water, and sports drinks,” she adds.
FYI, plain water does not contain electrolytes that’s why they’re added to sports and some energy drinks.
FACT: we lose electrolytes when we sweat.
“Most Americans consume enough sodium, so this is typically not an issue,” Dr. Pritchett says.
If you aren’t ill, “the only times when you’d need to worry are when you’re doing strenuous exercise, working out in the heat, or exercising for a prolonged period of time,” she explains.
Add to that, those who are “salty sweaters,” meaning their sweat contains more sodium than others, might need to make some notes on the amount of electrolytes they consume, especially during exercise, Dr. Pritchett says.

Are you getting enough electrolytes?

Everyone is unique. If you are suffering from an electrolyte imbalance, it’s the same feeling when you’re dehydrated.
“Typically when someone has prolonged diarrhea or vomiting we become more concerned about electrolyte imbalances,” Dr. Pritchett says.
Individuals who eat a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables do not need to worry about their electrolyte intake. Basically, we only need to worry about losing electrolytes when we’re engaged in a long, strenuous, or hot workout.
Well, you can also get dehydrated from drinking alcohol or vomiting. That means, if you’re craving for a sports drink while you’re just chilling at your desk, that’s fine. But a regular drinking water is fine, too.
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