Electrolyte replacement drinks are probably one of the most commonly used “fitness foods” out there.
Marketers do a fantastic job of making you think that their particular blend is going to turn you into a professional athlete and that you need to be chugging their drinks every time you walk around the yard.
Here’s the thing: You do need electrolytes. Sometimes.
But those commercial electrolyte replacement drinks are not necessarily the best way to ensure workout recovery or even keep you hydrated.
Instead, there is an easy (and inexpensive!) way you can make your own drink at home that will give you what you need – without loading you up with a bunch of things your body doesn’t need or want.
What Are Electrolytes and What Do They Do?
First, let’s talk about what electrolytes are and why you need them. Like many nutrients, there’s a fair amount of confusion around this particular group of minerals – elevating them to an almost mythic status in the minds of many.
Let’s clear all that up.
As a group, electrolytes are minerals present in your blood and other bodily fluids that carry an electric charge. Looked at individually, each electrolyte plays a specific role in supporting certain biological function.
These electrolytes include:
The single most plentiful mineral in your body, calcium is incredibly busy.
The mineral influences muscle contractions, sends and receives nerve impulses, helps maintain a regular heart beat and even effects levels of hormones and other chemicals (1).
Found in salt and many vegetables, chloride is responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of bodily fluids, giving it a major influence over your hydration (2).
Most electrolytes serve many vital functions in your body but magnesium is especially active, having about 300 different jobs.
Among its many responsibilities, magnesium supports nerve function, helps in muscle contractions, strengthens your immune system, maintains a regular heart beat, and regulates the use of nutrients to produce energy (3).
Second only to calcium in abundance in human bodies, phosphorus is present in literally every cell in your body.
Phosphorus is vital in the production of ATP, the primary source of fuel for your muscles. In addition to the standard electrolyte actions related to muscle contraction, nerve conduction and heart beat, phosphorus also supports normal kidney function (4).
Like all electrolytes, potassium contributes to healthy muscle contractions.
Interestingly, though, potassium focuses much of its attention on smooth muscles – such as your heart and digestive system. The mineral is also an important ingredient in the production of energy throughout your body (5).
You’re probably sensing a pattern here but, sodium helps to conduct nerve impulses and stimulate muscle contractions. This common mineral also works to control your blood pressure and volume (6).
Electrolytes and Exercise
As you can see, there’s a clear tie-in between electrolytes and nervous signals and muscle contractions. That’s you need electrolytes when you’re exercising. Actually, you need them all the time.
When you’re active, though, your body is much more dependent on these particular minerals than when you’re just sitting around.
Unfortunately, these electrolytes are lost in your sweat – a situation that leads to electrolyte imbalances and all of the associated complications.
In addition to supplying you with all the necessary electrolytes to keep you hydrated, healthy, and active, a quality sports recovery drink should also contain some carbohydrates for fuel.
Why Not Commercial Electrolyte Replacement Drinks
It would seem like Gatorade or a similar product would be the easiest solution. And, indeed, these drinks often do have the electrolytes that you need.
Unfortunately, they have plenty of other stuff you don’t need.
Chemical dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners are commonly packed into electrolyte-drink bottles, pretty much counteracting the other potentially healthful ingredients.
While these commercially produced electrolyte replacement drinks can work if you have no other option, they should not be your first choice.
Fortunately, there are some simple, healthy things things you can do instead.
Homemade Electrolyte Drink
When you deconstruct Gatorade and similar drinks, they really are pretty simple. You need water, a carbohydrate and some electrolytes. That’s it.
In reality, you can mix up a homemade electrolyte drink with just a few basic ingredients. To get you started, here is the basic electrolyte drink recipe that I personally use:
Homemade Electrolyte Drink Recipe
- 500ml (16.9oz) cold water
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp course sea salt
- lemon juice, to taste
- lime juice, to taste
Combine all of the ingredients and stir thoroughly.
You probably noticed that I specified cold water and included ice in the recipe. This is extremely important, for two reasons.
First, you need to keep your core temperature down – which will be a challenge if you’re active in the heat. This is to protect your system from any heat-related damage and helps to reduce fluid loss by causing you to sweat less.
Second, cold fluids are absorbed more quickly, getting you hydrated faster.
Natural Workout Recovery Drink
If you don’t feel like throwing together a batch of my homemade electrolyte drink – or just don’t have time – there is another solution.
This natural electrolyte drink is loaded with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to stay active and hydrated, even when you’re sweating buckets.
Interestingly, the balance of electrolytes and fluid found in coconut water is extremely close to that which exists inside the human body.
Also, coconut water is delicious.
Okay, I do have one other option for you… but it requires you to give a little bit more effort. If you’re up for that, then check out these Beet Shots…
Replenish Electrolytes Naturally
Although you absolutely need to be conscious of your body’s electrolyte levels while exercising – especially in the heat – commercially available sports drinks just aren’t a good choice.
Instead of throwing back a processed, chemical-laden beverages, take a little extra prep time to mix together this homemade electrolyte drink.
Feel Unstoppable After Your Workouts
In addition to replenishing your electrolytes during and after your workouts, you need a solid post-workout plan to speed your recovery so you feel limber and strong.