If you want to limit sugar, your options for electrolyte drinks are limited. That's because, more often than not, 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 drink them anyway - somehow I have to get my electrolytes, right? But a look at the ingredients list shows that most of the time electrolytes are missing, not to mention "good" ingredients.
You'll never find more than a few hundred milligrams of sodium. And that doesn't even begin to address the question of potassium or magnesium.
A few hundred milligrams of sodium is almost negligible if you look at the data. Athletes can lose up to 7 grams of sodium per day when they exercise in warm climates.
Another drawback: liquid sugar. And most electrolyte drinks contain oodles of it.
Oral rehydration solutions, or so-called hydration products, also contain sugar, usually in the form of glucose (rather than high-fructose alternatives). These supplements are "somewhat" suitable for 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'll also go into the problems of sugar and electrolyte drinks. Then I'll show you how to mix your own sports drinks fairly easily.
But first, let's talk about the most basic form of hydration.
What IS HYDRATION REALLY?
Most people think hydration is just about drinking water. However, I define hydration a little differently, as the optimal balance of fluids in the body.
According to the dictionary, drinking water is, of course, correct by definition. But looking at fluid balance in its entirety is much more useful for staying healthy and feeling well.
What IS OPTIMAL FLUID BALANCE?
It's about having the perfect amount of water in your body to keep your blood flowing, your skin moist, and your brain in your head (sounds a bit drastic, but hopefully you know what I mean).
By weight, we are mostly made up of H2O. It's important to distribute it properly.
In a person with healthy kidneys, fluid balance happens pretty much 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 some, and the system is back in balance.
But water isn't the only factor affecting this system. That's where 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 the most important for fluid intake and hydration.
Of the electrolytes, sodium and potassium are the most important regulators of fluid balance. Sodium regulates extracellular fluid balance (fluid outside the cells) and potassium regulates intracellular fluid balance (fluid inside the cells).
Sodium and potassium are supplied through food, supplements, and electrolyte drinks and excreted through sweat, urine, and feces. When more sodium and potassium are excreted than supplied, nutrient deficiencies occur and fluid balance becomes suboptimal.
The consequences of sodium and potassium deficiency include:
- Headaches .
- Fatigue .
- 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 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 "keto flu"), as a low-carbohydrate diet leads to increased sodium loss through urine - as sodium is also lost through sweat.
Low serum potassium (hypokalemia), on the other hand, is usually due to potassium loss through diarrhea or vomiting.
The conclusion is that a daily electrolyte drink should focus first on sodium and then on potassium..
However, there are rumors that sugar is useful for the absorption of 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 intestine and into the bloodstream.
The transporters are called SGLTs.
When you add glucose to a hydration solution, the net absorption of sodium and fluid is increased. That's the basis for oral rehydration therapy (ORT) - a procedure used in hospitals to rehydrate patients with infectious diarrhea and other illnesses. ORT has been very helpful in combating cholera epidemics in recent decades.
ORT works. There's no denying that. But do you need the sugar? Consider this:
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 intestine without a co-transporter.
A saline solution effectively reversed exercise-induced hyponatremia in long-distance runners. No glucose required.
The last point is directed against sugar itself. A little glucose can be tolerated, but consuming too much sugar has negative consequences. That's why we eliminate sugar from some of our products.
The problem with sugary drinks.
The average European consumes a whopping 17% of their calories from added sugar. That's nearly 20 teaspoons in a 2000-calorie diet.
Most of this sugar comes from sweetened beverages and foods. Many electrolyte drinks - like Gatorade, Powerade, and anything shimmering blue - 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 incomplete list of chronic diseases associated with higher sugar intake.
Chronic diseases associated with sugar consumption:
- Heart disease. For every sugary drink consumed daily, the risk of heart disease increases by 10-20%. .
- Type 2 diabetes. Among more than 90,000 women, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased by 83% if they drank more than one sugary drink per day (compared with one drink per week).
- Cancer. High blood sugar from high sugar consumption promotes cancer through the Warburg effect. (Warburg discovered that cancer cells love glucose). Mice that consumed the equivalent of one sugary drink per day developed more colon cancer than control mice. .
- Kidney disease. When healthy adults consumed 2 liters of soda after exercise, they exhibited signs of kidney damage. .
And that's not all. Sugar is driving the obesity epidemic. Higher sugar consumption is associated with higher rates of cognitive decline. Sugar exacerbates intestinal problems. The list goes on, but you get the point. Plus, sugar isn't the only problem with most electrolyte drinks.
Purchased electrolyte drinks: pros and cons.
Let's now talk about the good, the bad, and the really bad of electrolyte drinks.
#1: SPORT DRINKS.
There are three big problems with sports drinks:
- They contain too much sugar .
- They contain hardly any electrolytes (such as sodium)
- They contain artificial ingredients you don't want .
Aside from the short-lived taste sensation, there is nothing positive about them.
#2: ORAL REHYDRATION SOLUTIONS.
Oral rehydration solutions like Elotrans are useful for replacing fluids and electrolytes in critical situations. If 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 isn't insignificant..
In addition, they 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 your electrolytes from carbonated mineral water or cleverly packaged "electrolyte water"? Unfortunately, this is a futile strategy.
Mineral water contains some calcium, but usually little sodium and potassium. Enjoy them in good health, but don't rely on them for electrolytes.
Also, store-bought electrolyte water is often not real electrolyte water. It's just water with a touch of minerals for flavor. Don't be fooled by such words and check the ingredients.
#4: COCOOUS NUT WATER.
Oscar Wilde once said that "everything that is popular is false." He probably exaggerated a bit, but he's not entirely wrong about 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 provide yourself with adequate electrolytes through a sugar-free electrolyte drink:
The easy way.
The easy way involves mixing water, salt, potassium and magnesium with a squeeze of lemon or lime. That's what we call a home-brewed electrolyte drink.
You want a noticeably salty taste? Not like sea water, but you should taste the salt like you would in a margarita, or even a bit stronger.
Overall, you should watch 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 which researchers found that 5 grams of sodium per day is best for heart health. Most people need more salt, not less.
The even easier way.
Even easier is if you use a sugar-free electrolyte drink mix like Drink le melo. It contains enough sodium and is already ready to use in convenient sticks.
Yes, I am biased on this topic. I developed le melo with friends and athletes. It's our product. But we developed it so we (yes, including us) could have a delicious electrolyte drink on demand.
Whether you use le melo or mix your own drink, you'll save a trip to the store. And by the way, you're drinking more fluids, too. Not a bad deal, right?
But this wasn't enough for me, so we thought about how we can make sports drinks even better. How can we help regenerate faster, not shoot our blood sugar levels straight up, etc.? About this I write then in another post...