Electrolyte Water: Function, Myths, Benefit, How Does it Differ From Water

What is Electrolyte Water?

To begin with, one must understand what exactly is electrolyte water? Electrolytes are the minerals that are capable of conducting electricity when they are dissolved in water.(1, 2) Electrolytes are distributed within the body through fluids and these minerals use their electrical energy to better enable certain critical bodily functions.

Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium help stimulate the muscles and nerves in the body.(2) Electrolytes are also responsible for regulating the level of fluids in the body, which has an impact on cellular function, blood pressure and blood volume. For example, sodium is known to play a crucial role in water regulation, but overall, all the electrolytes help in keeping the levels of body fluids balanced.

The body needs to maintain a specific amount of each electrolyte as the precise amount of each electrolyte is required for all of them to function together and properly.

Why Is The Function Of Electrolytes In The Body?

Electrolytes are required by the body for(5):

  • Regulating the blood pressure.
  • Controlling the balance of fluids in the body.
  • Helping the muscles contract, particularly the heart muscle.(3)
  • Helps maintain the correct acidity level of the blood or the pH levels.

Does Every Water Contain Electrolytes?

Electrolyte waters are known to be enriched with these charged minerals. However, the concentration of electrolytes varies from brand to brand and from the source of water as well. Unless the bottled water you buy is labeled specifically as being ‘distilled’, the regular bottled water that you use will be containing at least a minute trace of these electrolytes. Some products also contain trace amounts of electrolytes just for taste.

This does not mean that you can find electrolytes in bottled water only. Tap water also contains electrolytes.(4) On an average, 1 liter of tap water would contain approximately two to three percent of the reference daily intake (RDI) for calcium, magnesium and calcium.(7) However, you would not find traces of potassium in tap water.(7)

When you compare tap water to sports drinks, 1 liter of any electrolyte-enhanced sports drink contains nearly 18 to 20 percent of your RDI for sodium and three to five percent of the RDI for potassium. However, sports drinks rarely contain calcium or magnesium.(8)

When Do We Need Electrolyte Water and What Are Its Popular Sources?

Any regular adult can get their required dosage of electrolytes through a balanced diet as well. But, excessive sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting can all result in an abnormal loss of electrolytes from the body. When this happens, drinking electrolyte water will help restore the levels of electrolytes in the body.

The most common sources of electrolyte beverages include: sports drinks and enhanced bottled waters.

Myths & Benefits of Electrolyte Water

Let us now look at some myths and some benefits associated with electrolyte water.

Myth 1: Electrolyte Water Will Keep You Better Hydrated Than Regular Water

FACT: The fact is that there is nothing better than plain water at keeping you well hydrated. Normal water does the job without the addition of any minerals or calories (in the case of sports drinks). It could be that the taste of electrolyte water makes you drink more water when you are exercising, but there is no need to spend extra money to buy electrolyte water. Your regular bottle of water will also work just as well to keep you hydrated.

Benefit 1: Electrolyte Water Helps Exercise Performance

Water that has been enhanced with electrolytes, such as sports drinks, are known to help improve the performance of athletes, as it helps in replenishing the energy and electrolytes lost during the workout.

When you work out or during any physical activity, your body needs more fluids to replace the water that is lost in the form of sweat. In fact, even a water loss of just one to two percent of body weight can actually cause you to feel fatigued, have less strength, diminish your speed and also affect your focus.(9) Sweat is known to contain electrolytes, especially a significant amount of sodium, along with some amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. With every liter of sweat, you end up losing around 1 gram of sodium.(10) This is why for athletes, sports drinks or electrolyte-enhanced waters are recommended over plain, regular water so that they are able to replenish fluids and electrolytes if there is quite a bit of sweating, and if the individual is exercising for longer periods of time or if they are exercising in a hot environment.(11, 12, 13)

However, a point to keep in mind is that sports drinks are not designed for the sedentary individual. They are specifically designed for athletes. These drinks, aside from electrolytes, also contain several calories from added sugar. You will be surprised to know that a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains nearly 30 grams of added sugar (14).

Myth 2: You Need Electrolyte Water Every Time You Exercise

FACT: Electrolyte-enriched water, such as sports drinks is only meant to replenish electrolytes and rehydrate the body when the individual is undergoing rigorous and prolonged exercise. This does not mean that even if you are out taking a walk for half-an-hour, you need to gulp down a bottle of sports drink. Electrolyte water is appropriate for high-intensity activities that last for over an hour.

Most people do not have any need to consume electrolyte water, especially during shorter periods of activity or exercise. After all, do not forget the high levels of added sugar that these beverages contain. You can also opt for diluting your sports drinks with some fresh water to keep rehydrating and also save yourself for the high-calorie intake.

Benefit 2: Electrolyte Water Can Help Rehydrate During Illness

While diarrhea and vomiting are not typically considered to be serious illnesses if they last for a short period of time; however, if the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea become severe or if they continue to persist, then it can easily cause dehydration if you do not replace the fluids and electrolytes that are being lost.

Children and infants are particularly susceptible to having dehydration from severe diarrhea and vomiting. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you should be using an oral rehydration solution if you notice any sign of vomiting and/or diarrhea to prevent any incidences of dehydration.(15) These oral rehydration solutions also contain electrolytes, carbs, and water, in certain specific concentrations so that they can be easily digested by children and infants.

Sports drinks are also similar to this, except that they contain high amounts of added sugar. This is why sports drinks are not recommended for young children and infants, as such high amounts of sugar can worsen diarrhea.(16)

In older children, sports drinks may be well tolerated, but you will still need to dilute it to 1 part sports drink and 1 part water. Adults will have no issues with tolerating either sports drinks or the oral rehydration solutions.(17)

Electrolyte drinks, though, might not be enough to treat severe dehydration and if diarrhea and vomiting last longer than 24 hours, then you should seek medical advice immediately.(18)

Myth 3: Electrolytes Contained In Sports Drinks Promote Heart Health

FACT: Typically, all sports drinks contain high amounts of sodium. For example, one big bottle of sports drinks will approximately contain 480 mg of sodium, which is already one-fifth of the daily recommended allowance for sodium. There is also a lot of added sodium in many foods today, and when you add to this the extra added sodium from sports drinks, you are actually increasing your risk for high blood pressure, and also putting your heart in danger. You can opt for including electrolytes in your diet by consuming foods like leafy green vegetables, bananas, milk, etc., rather than resorting to sports drinks for maintaining your electrolyte levels and promoting a healthy heart.

Benefit 3: Electrolyte Water Can Prevent A Heat Stroke

Heat strokes are common when living in a hot climate. In normal conditions, the body manages the excess heat by releasing it through sweating or through the skin.

However, in extremely hot weather, your body’s cooling system may start to fail, which causes the body temperature to rise.(19) Sometimes, it may rise to dangerous levels, which may result in a heat stroke.

While the primary prevention for avoiding getting a heat stroke is to of course limit the time you spend outside in the heat, but consuming lots of fluids and electrolytes will also help to keep your body cool.(20)

If you stay in a hot climate, then having water and sports drinks, particularly when outside, are advisable for keeping your body hydrated. Drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and soda can worsen your dehydration.(21) Even alcohol does the same.(21) This is why you should opt for having electrolyte water or sports drinks in a hot environment to stay cool and prevent a heat stroke.

How Does Electrolyte Water Differ From Regular Water?

Many people often ask this question as to what is the basic difference between electrolyte water and regular water. Everybody needs adequate hydration for maintaining good health and for the proper functioning of the body because your body needs water for nearly all the functions, such as flushing out toxins, regulating the body temperature, and even for transporting nutrients from one part of the body to the other.(22)

Regular water and electrolyte water will both hydrate your body, just like other fluids. However, there is a common myth that electrolyte water is better or superior to regular water when it comes to hydration. This really depends on individual circumstances.

Electrolyte water will be more beneficial for you if you are at a risk of losing minerals from the body. In the following circumstances, you may want to choose an electrolyte-enriched water over regular water:

  • If you are exercising vigorously for more than one hour.
  • If you tend to sweat heavily while exercising.
  • If you are suffering from diarrhea or vomiting.
  • If you are going to be out in the heat for a long period of time.

Regular hot weather, common illnesses, such as a cold or a cough, and everyday outdoor sports, do not require you to have electrolyte water. Regular water will work just fine for meeting your hydration needs on a day-to-day basis.

Conclusion

Electrolyte water is beneficial for the body, as it helps the body function at its best under certain conditions. Water enriched with electrolytes typically contains sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate. While on a regular day-to-day basis, you do not need to consume electrolyte water, it comes in handy when you have to exercise for longer than an hour, you are outdoors in a hot environment, or you are suffering from severe vomiting and diarrhea.

One of the drawbacks to having sports drinks or other types of electrolyte water is the high cost associated with these brands. You may want to research a little online and find out how to make your own electrolyte water at home. You can also choose to have coconut water instead of electrolyte water. While coconut water is a healthy option, it does not contain that much sodium or carbs as compared to a sports drink. Making a lemon-lime sports drink at home itself will not only be healthy, but it will also be cost effective. You can also add some coconut water to it to make it healthier and also gain the benefits of coconut water at the same time. Homemade electrolyte water will not only be cost effective, but you will be assured that there are no artificial colors or flavors added to the drink.

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