• Electrolyte packets with sodium, potassium, and magnesium are an increasingly popular hydration remedy.
  • Sodium is necessary to increase water absorption, maintain fluid balance, and help regulate muscle contraction and relaxation.
  • Individuals who exercise vigorously may need extra sodium from electrolyte packets, but those with high blood pressure, heart failure, or other medical conditions should be mindful of how much sodium they consume.

Electrolyte powders are all the rage right now—if you’ve spent any time on social media lately you’ve likely seen someone tear open the slender package, pour the contents into a bottle of water, shake it up, then drink it down.

The claim is that, when added to water, these powders hydrate you more efficiently, and it’s right—in some cases. When it comes to hydration, water isn’t the only tool: electrolytes—charged minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which are essential for bodily function—are also important to consider.

But one of thse electrolytes—sodium—might do more harm than good for some people, especially with some electrolyte powders containing as much as 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. Here’s what to know.

woman drinking sports drink
EZEQUIEL GIMéNEZ/STOCKSY

What Are Electrolytes—And Why Do We Need Them?

Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge when they’re dissolved in water or other bodily fluids. The main electrolytes found in the body include:1

  • Bicarbonate
  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Potassium
  • Sodium

These electrolytes have a variety of functions to keep the body running smoothly, including balancing the amount of water in your body and your pH levels, moving nutrients and waste in and out of cells, and keeping your heart rate and blood pressure stable, among other things.

For the most part, your body does a good job of maintaining its balance of electrolytes—but sometimes that balance can be thrown off, which results in an electrolyte imbalance, mainly due to having too little water (dehydration) or too much water (overhydration). Some common reasons you may have an electrolyte imbalance include:1

  • Certain medications
  • Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heart, liver, or kidney problems
  • Not drinking enough fluids (especially during exercise or in hot weather)
  • Drinking too much water

That’s where electrolyte powders come into play. Though we get most of our electrolytes from foods and drinks, electrolyte powders pack a larger punch of those charged minerals. Some of the most popular electrolyte powders—LMNT, Nuun, and Liquid IV—contain larger amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, or a combination of the three

Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium in Leading Electrolyte Powders
LMNT NUUN LIQUID IV
Sodium  1,000 mg  300 mg  500 mg
Potassium  200 mg  385 mg  370 mg
Magnesium  60 mg  8 mg  —

“While electrolyte packets contain sodium, they are not solely about increasing salt intake,” Mindy Roth, MS, RDN, owner of Mindy Roth Nutrition and the Nourish Your Lifestyle Revolution, told Health. “The key is the balance of electrolytes, and these packets are designed to provide a mix of minerals that contribute to overall hydration and equilibrium.”

Sodium in Electrolyte Powders and Overall Intake

Electrolyte powders typically have large amounts of sodium per serving—and for good reason.

“Including sodium in electrolyte packets helps support hydration and overall electrolyte balance, making them effective for replenishing what the body loses during physical activity or when fluid and electrolyte balances may be disrupted,” said Roth.

If not adequately replaced, lack of sodium can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, and hyponatremia, which is a life-threatening condition where you have a low sodium concentration in the blood.

Meanwhile, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day; in reality, the average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium daily.2

How much sodium a specific person needs depends on a variety of factors, according to Gregory Katz, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health.

“Physical activity levels, [the] amount of sweating you do, [and] whether you have high blood pressure or heart failure are all really important things to keep in mind,” Katz told Health. “Higher blood pressure or heart failure generally mean less sodium is beneficial. People who are really physically active or those with a condition called POTS [postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome] often benefit from more.”

Having a diet that’s higher in potassium may also give you a higher threshold for sodium intake, added Katz.

The sodium in electrolyte packets—which is often a lot—counts toward your daily sodium allotment, so it’s important to be mindful if you have any special medical considerations that require lower salt intake.

Who Should Use Electrolyte Powders—And When?

People who are very active, sweat a lot, and live in hot and humid climates may benefit from consuming more sodium through electrolyte powders. Some individuals also tend to be salty sweaters—meaning their sweat often tastes salty, stings their eyes, or feels gritty on their skin—and require more sodium to rehydrate after exercise.

While there isn’t a clear recommendation for how long you need to exercise before you need to replenish more adequately with electrolytes, it’s typically more than an hour of vigorous activity. “Even many people who exercise regularly don’t need extra sodium,” said Katz

Electrolyte powders are also useful in non-exercise situations where sodium is being lost. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding individuals have an increased need for sodium. During pregnancy, blood volume increases and an increase in sodium helps maintain normal balance of fluids and minerals.3 Adequate hydration is essential for keeping up milk supply for mothers who breastfeed.

But experts say that, for most people who engage in regular daily activities or moderate exercise, drinking water is enough to stay hydrated.

If you’re interested in electrolyte powders, it’s best to ask a healthcare professional or registered dietitian who is familiar with your medical history for individualized recommendations on the types, usage, and safety of electrolyte packets.

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