Are electrolyte powders good for you?What nutrition experts want you to know before taking any hydration supplement

In modern times, staying hydrated seems to be a big requirement. Maybe you don’t have time to fill up a reusable water bottle while running from meeting to meeting, or forget to take a few sips of water after a sweaty workout. Hydration supplements like electrolyte powders and tablets have entered the market to replenish your daily water needs when you’re running low or feeling depleted, but are they really necessary?

Before you start spending money on another supplement, it’s important to understand how hydration works. Water makes up about 60 percent of our body weight and is involved in many important functions, says nutritionist Lauren Manaker, RDN. It helps regulate body temperature, lubricate joints, assist with nutrient absorption, and promote various chemical reactions in the body. Maintaining proper hydration levels also helps us think, regulate our emotions, and respond to the world around us.

Most of us know it’s important to drink enough water, but how do electrolyte powders work? Experts explain.

How electrolyte powder works

Melissa Boufounos, a certified holistic nutritionist who specializes in functional nutrition, says hydration powders and tablets contain electrolytes, which are important minerals that help regulate and maintain fluid balance in the body. The body relies on three main electrolytes to function: sodium (which helps cells absorb nutrients), magnesium (responsible for converting nutrients into energy), and potassium (which works closely with sodium to play a key role in heart health).

While plain old tap water contains trace amounts of electrolytes, hydration supplements like electrolyte powder can provide higher doses of these minerals. Manak explains that as long as the hydration option contains the right mix of electrolytes in sufficient amounts, it can help support hydration status. Boufounos adds that the sodium in these products may also stimulate thirst, prompting you to reach for your water bottle more often.

Little research has been conducted on the effects of these dietary supplements, but past research on sports drinks can be used to understand their effectiveness. Research shows that functional drinks containing glucose, sodium and fructose can improve athletic performance by optimizing water absorption. Another small study found that people who drank sports drinks before and after jumping on a treadmill were able to retain more fluids than those who drank unreplenished water.

Who benefits most from electrolyte powders and tablets?

Not surprisingly, hydration products are most beneficial for those who deplete electrolytes on a daily basis. Athletes, fitness enthusiasts and people who engage in strenuous physical activity often benefit greatly from hydrating powders, Manak says. These powders provide a quick and effective way to replenish lost electrolytes, providing the rapid rehydration needed to maintain performance and recovery.

People with stomach problems, food poisoning, or the flu may also benefit from electrolyte powder, as these conditions can dehydrate the body. Finally, Manak said people living in or visiting extremely hot areas can use hydration powder to maintain optimal hydration levels and prevent heat-related illnesses. So if you’re traveling to Tuscany in July or Sedona in August, taking some electrolyte tablets may help you adjust and stay hydrated during your trip.

Still others may want to avoid these products. Manak said hydration powders and pills may have some benefit for some people, but may not be suitable for everyone. For example, while the added sugar and sodium in many supplements may help some people run, people with diabetes or high blood pressure need to be cautious when adding these supplements to their water.

Can electrolyte supplements be used instead of plain water?

Short answer: no. Hydrating powders and pills should not replace drinking plain water or other hydrating liquids, Bufonos said. Although electrolyte supplements are popular and staying hydrated is important, it’s possible to overconsume electrolytes. Electrolyte imbalances can affect blood pressure, kidney function, and heart rate, so make sure you don’t start to rely too much on these pills.

That said, adequate hydration can be helpful. In some cases, adding electrolytes can help people stay hydrated more than drinking plain water, Manak said. But for generally healthy people who don’t exercise a lot, sweat, are in extreme heat, or are in other situations that make staying hydrated challenging, water is probably fine.

Remember, electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, and potassium) are also found in foods like yogurt, apricots, and pumpkin seeds. So if you eat a nutrient-dense diet, drink plenty of water, and engage in moderate exercise, you can probably rely on electrolytes purchased at the grocery store to replenish your electrolytes.

What to know about added sugars in electrolyte powders and tablets

If you check the labels of many electrolyte powders, you may notice added sugar. Bufonos says there’s a legitimate reason for this. Hydration powders and tablets have added sugar to promote water absorption and provide a source of energy during exercise, she said. Athletes participating in endurance training of an hour or more should choose products with added sugar, as glucose can increase energy levels and help improve performance.

If you’re using electrolyte products outside of exercise, choose sugar-free options, Boufounos says.

Verdict on Electrolyte Powders and Tablets

In most cases, electrolyte powder is a supplement to your diet, not a necessity. Once your doctor agrees, I would choose your supplements wisely. Boufounos recommends choosing products that have been tested by third parties. She explains that when a supplement is third-party tested, it meets minimum safety standards and does not contain harmful or banned substances, which is especially important for athletes.

Of course, you should always consult with your primary care physician before adding anything brand new to your routine. The best approach, Manak says, is to ask your health care provider if you should explore adding this solution to your diet.

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