If you're looking to limit sugar, your options for electrolyte drinks are limited. Because most sports drinks simply contain too much sugar...
Most people are at least somewhat aware that sugary drinks are not the best sports drinks. But they still drink them - I must say somehow electrolytes get it, right? A look at the list of ingredients shows, however, that mostly the electrolytes missing, quite apart from "good" ingredients.
You'll never find more than a few hundred milligrams of sodium. And that doesn't even begin to answer the question of potassium or magnesium.
A few hundred milligrams of sodium is almost negligible when you look at the data. Athletes can lose up to 7 grams of sodium per day when exercising in warm climates.
Another disadvantage: the liquid sugar. And most electrolyte drinks contain lots of them.
Oral rehydration solutions or so-called hydration products also contain sugar, mostly in the form of glucose (rather than alternatives with a high fructose content). These supplements are "reasonably" good at replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, but the claim that you need sugar for daily hydration is simply not true. I'll get to that later.
I will also address the issues of sugar and electrolyte drinks. Then I'll show you how you can easily mix your own sports drinks.
But first, let's talk about the most basic form of hydration.
WHAT IS HYDRATION ACTUALLY?
Most people think that hydration is all about drinking water. However, I define hydration a little differently, namely as the optimal fluid balance in the body.
Of course, according to the dictionary, drinking water is correct by definition. But looking at fluid balance in its entirety is far more useful for staying healthy and feeling good.
WHAT IS OPTIMUM FLUID BALANCE?
It's about having the perfect amount of water in your body to keep your blood flowing, your skin hydrated, and your brain in your head (sounds a bit drastic, but I hope you know what I mean).
By weight, we are mostly made of H2O. It is important to distribute it correctly.
In a person with healthy kidneys, fluid replenishment happens fairly automatically. For example, if you drink too much water, the antidiuretic hormone is suppressed and you excrete the excess.
On the other hand, if you don't drink enough water, the osmoreceptors in your brain sense it. Then you get thirsty, drink something, and the system is back in balance.
But water is not the only factor affecting this system. This is where the electrolytes come in!
WHAT DO ELECTROLYTES DO?
Electrolytes are charged minerals that have many functions in the human body:
- Electrolytes conduct electricity to enable cell communication
- Electrolytes regulate the heartbeat
- Electrolytes mediate the activity of many hormones
- Electrolytes regulate inflammatory processes
- Electrolytes regulate fluid balance (blood pressure, etc.)
Let's pay special attention to the last point. It is most important for hydration and hydration.
Of the electrolytes Sodium and potassium are the most important regulators of fluid balance. Sodium regulates extracellular fluid balance (fluid outside of cells) and potassium regulates intracellular fluid balance (fluid inside cells).
Sodium and potassium are obtained from food, supplements, and electrolyte drinks, and are eliminated in sweat, urine, and feces. When more sodium and potassium is excreted than is taken in, nutrient deficiencies occur and fluid balance becomes suboptimal.
The consequences of sodium and potassium deficiency include:
- low energy
- muscle cramps
- "Brain fog" or clouding of consciousness
Severe cases of sodium deficiency (called hyponatremia) can lead to seizures, brain damage, or death. Hyponatremia is often caused by excessive consumption of sodium-free water, which is common among endurance athletes. When the athletes rehydrate with saline water, the hyponatremia is reversed.
But even mild cases of sodium deficiency can cause an energy deficit. This is common in keto athletes (known as the "keto flu") because a low-carb diet leads to increased sodium loss through the urine — because sodium is also lost through sweat.
A low serum potassium level (hypokalemia), on the other hand, is usually due to potassium losses through diarrhea or vomiting.
The bottom line is that a daily electrolyte drink should focus on sodium first and then potassium.
However, there are rumors that sugar is useful for absorbing electrolytes. Should a daily electrolyte drink also contain sugar?
DO YOU NEED SUGAR FOR BETTER HYDRATION?
No, you don't need sugar for hydration. But glucose can speed up electrolyte absorption.
Sodium and glucose share a couple of transporters in the small intestine - SGLT1 and SGLT2. These transporters help move sodium, glucose, and fluid through the gut and into the bloodstream.
Adding glucose to a hydration solution increases net sodium and fluid intake. This is the basis for oral rehydration therapy (ORT) - a procedure used in hospitals to rehydrate patients with infectious diarrhea and other diseases. The ORT has been very helpful in fighting cholera epidemics over the past few decades.
LOCATION works. That is undeniable. But do you need the sugar? Consider the following:
In addition to glucose, many other compounds (ketones, amino acids, butyrate, and phosphorus) also transport sodium through the gut.
Sodium can also diffuse through the gut without a co-transporter.
A saline solution effectively reversed exercise-induced hyponatremia in long-distance runners. No glucose required.
The last point is against the sugar itself. A little glucose is okay, but consuming too much sugar has negative consequences. That's why we don't use sugar in some of our products.
THE PROBLEM WITH SUGARY BEVERAGES
The average European gets a whopping 17% of their calories from added sugar. That's almost 20 teaspoons on a 2000 calorie diet.
Most of this sugar comes from sweetened beverages and foods. Many electrolyte drinks -- like Gatorade, Powerade, and anything with an iridescent blue color -- fall into this category.
The consequences of excessive sugar consumption are beyond the scope of this article. (I wrote a whole blog about how sugar makes us sick).
But check out this partial list of chronic diseases linked to higher sugar intake.
Chronic diseases associated with sugar consumption:
- heart diseases. With every sugary drink consumed daily, the risk of heart disease increases by 10-20%.
- type 2 diabetes. In over 90,000 women, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased by 83% if they drank more than one sugary drink per day (compared to one drink per week).
- Cancer. High blood sugar from high sugar consumption favors cancer through the Warburg effect. (Warburg discovered that cancer cells love glucose). Mice that drank the equivalent of one sugary drink per day developed more colon cancer than control mice.
- kidney diseases. If healthy adults consumed 2 liters of soda after exercise, they showed signs of kidney damage.
And that's not all. Sugar is driving the obesity epidemic. Higher sugar consumption is associated with a higher rate of cognitive decline. Sugar makes bowel problems worse. The list goes on, but you get the point. Also, sugar isn't the only problem with most electrolyte drinks.
PURCHASED ELECTROLYTE DRINKS: ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Now let's talk about the good, the bad, and the really bad of electrolyte drinks.
#1: SPORTS DRINKS
There are three major problems with sports drinks :
- They contain too much sugar
- They hardly contain any electrolytes (like sodium)
- They contain artificial ingredients that you don't want
Aside from the momentary taste sensation, there's nothing positive about them.
#2: ORAL REHYDRATION SOLUTIONS
Oral rehydration solutions such as Elotrans are useful for staying hydrated and in critical situations electrolytes to replace. When your child is sick, Elotrans can be a useful medicine.
Of course, these solutions also contain sugar. And if you're on a low-carb or keto diet, even 6 grams of sugar is significant.
They also contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners with unknown effects on human health. They are not an option for daily hydration.
#3: ELECTROLYTE WATER AND MINERAL WATER
Can't you just get the electrolytes from sparkling mineral water or cleverly packaged "electrolyte water"? Unfortunately, this is a futile strategy.
While mineral water contains some calcium, it is usually low in sodium and potassium. Enjoy the products in good health, but don't rely on them for electrolytes.
Also, store-bought electrolytic water is often not proper electrolytic water. It's just water with a touch of minerals for taste. Don't be fooled by such words and check the ingredients.
#4: COCONUT WATER
Oscar Wilde once said that "everything that is popular is wrong". He probably exaggerated a bit, but he's not entirely wrong about the popular coconut water.
Coconut water is a good source of potassium, but it's low in sodium. And beware: even coconut water with no added sugar has a high sugar content.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN LOW SUGAR ELECTROLYTE DRINK
There are two ways to get enough electrolytes from a sugar-free electrolyte drink:
The easy way
The simple method involves mixing water, salt, potassium, and magnesium with a squeeze of lemon or lime. This is what we call a homebrew electrolyte drink.
Want a noticeably salty taste? Not like seawater, but you should taste the salt like you would taste it in a margarita, or even a little stronger.
In total, you should aim for 5 grams of sodium per day. (That's about 12.5 grams, or 2.5 teaspoons of salt). You may need to increase this amount if you lose a lot of sodium through sweating.
Five grams of sodium sounds like a lot, I know. Isn't all that sodium bad for your heart? Not according to a 2011 JAMA study. In that study, researchers found that 5 grams of sodium per day was best for heart health. Most people need more salt, not less.
The even easier way
It's even easier if you have a sugar-free one electrolyte drink mix like using le melo. It contains enough sodium and is ready to use in practical sticks.
Yes, I am biased on this subject. I developed le melo together with friends and athletes. It's our product. But we developed it so that we (yes, ourselves included) could have a delicious electrolyte drink on demand.
Whether you use le melo or mix your own drink, you save yourself the trip to the store. And by the way, you also drink more liquid. Not a bad deal, right?
But that wasn't enough for me, so we thought about how we could make sports drinks EVEN better. How can we help to regenerate faster, not to shoot up our blood sugar level directly, etc. I will write about that in another post...