With the summer approaching many of us are getting outside and exercising, and activities in the hot sun can make us sweat buckets.
What is the best way to rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes? If your answer is gatorade, think again.
What Are Electrolytes?
When we sweat, we lose not only water but electrolytes. The main electrolytes that are lost are sodium (Na+), Potassium (K+), Magnesium (Mg2+), Calcium (Ca2+), and Chloride (Cl-), plus a few others.
Notice the plus or minus? That means these are ions and hold a charge, which is important for a host of physiological functions, including maintaining pH (acid-base balance), muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and regulating blood pressure. So if we sweat large amounts from strenuous activities, it is important to replace these lost electrolytes.
Note: after light exercise or activities (where you don't sweat much) you do not need to replace electrolytes. Drinking water will do the trick.
Commercial Sports Drinks
There are a few reasons why commercial sports drinks are not your best bet for rehydration.
First, if you read the label on a bottle of gatorade, the first thing you will notice is the high sugar content. While a small amount of sugar can be beneficial in boosting energy during exercise or competition, too much is unnecessary and can lead to blood sugar spiking then crashing.
Second, in addition to the electrolytes, there are often dyes and added natural/artificial colours. You body most definitely does not lose any artificial colours when you sweat!
The third point is actually no longer a problem. Gatorade and other sports drinks used to contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO) to improve stability. However, BVO is also a flame retardant that is banned in Europe and Japan. After a protest, gatorade has removed BVO since 2013.
Natural Electrolyte Sports Drink
The good news is that it's super easy to make a natural electrolyte replacement drink. There are a number of different ingredients and recipes that can be used, and feel free to experiment to find one that you like.
The ingredients that we want to include are:
Water / Coconut Water
You need to replace lost fluid after intense sweating, so water is the base. Coconut water is another great option because it's a natural source of electrolytes. However if you don't like the taste, you can use fresh spring water.
Juice of Lemon/Lime/Orange
Citrus juice is a fantastic source of electrolytes. Also, did you notice the citric acid ingredient in gatorade? This can be found in (surprise!) citrus fruits. You can also make your choice of sports drink flavour, like orange or lemon-lime.
Sea salt contains sodium and chloride, as well as trace minerals. Pink himalayan salt is a great choice.
I like to add this as it adds some carbohydrates post-exercise, as well as a number of other nutrients and minerals. Some people don't love the taste, but a small amount mixes pretty well.
I don't usually add this, but you can try it if you need to sweeten the drink up a bit.
Natural Electrolyte Drink Recipe
1 cup water or coconut water
1/8 tsp sea salt (i.e. himalayan pink salt)
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime (or both)
Juice of 1 orange (or 1/2 cup orange juice)
1 tsp blacsktrap molasses
1/2 tsp honey to taste (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a large cup or water bottle. Mix well and enjoy!
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Dr. Tomah Phillips, ND