Electrolytes are charged metallic “ions” that help balance fluid pressure inside our cells and control the pH of our blood. Normal nerve, heart and muscle function relies on adequate amounts of these minerals, and deficiencies can hamper performance dramatically. The root cause of muscle cramps is usually from a lack of electrolytes, especially potassium and magnesium. Water does not supply enough of these minerals anymore. In the past, our water would come down from the mountains, collect minerals from the rocks, become activated through movement and was free of pollutants. Today, our water needs to be purified, distilled and treated which can diminish or completely eliminate the mineral content.

During our early days of agriculture, fermented drinks fit the bill more than water to maintain energy and hydration all day. These supplied ionic minerals to the body, supplying the muscles with the much needed electricity to function. Today, research has allowed us to design drinks to address the precise needs of the body during physiological, emotional and psychological stress to allow us to push beyond what is considered humanly possible. If you are really serious about performance, consider reading the article Adaptogens: The Secret Weapon for Athletes.

 

Best

1. Hammer Nutrition HEED Sports Energy Drink and Shaklee Performance

 

performance orange

HEED and Performance are designed for those that will be experiencing heavy sweat loss and requiring a liquid carbohydrate source. Both use a different type of carbohydrate delivery system instead of simple sugars that may not cause the gastric distress that many sugary sports drinks do. The osmolality for Heed is 280-290, and Performance is 260. The osmolality of blood is 280-290, and a sports drink should be in this range or slightly less. The carbohydrate content for Heed is 25 grams, and for Performance it is 26 grams, putting it at the exact range required by extreme exercise. It has the full electrolyte profile needed for mineral loss, and the testimonials of many people using it shows that they are currently at the top of the class.

*If you are needing something over the 3 hour mark and beyond, you will need an easy to digest protein source and a more heavy duty profile. Under general circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend using soy. However, Hammer’s research and numerous testimonials shows it works. Very few use non-GMO soy and that’s also where Hammer stands out. The best one is Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem.

2. Pure Encapsulations – Electrolyte/Energy Formula 


This formula uses glucose, alpha ketoglutarate and malate, l-tryosine and contains the full range of electrolytes. Alpha ketoglutarate is a precursor to glutamine, and may help protein synthesis and recovery. L-tyrosine is a precursor to catecholamine neurotransmitters including dopamine epinephrine and norepinephrine, promoting mental focus and physical endurance under stressful conditions. This is a popular choice from doctors for the patients low in electrolytes or struggling with dehydration. I used this one recently for a 10 hour road trip and it definitely helped me stay alert and hydrated.

3. Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator or Ultima Replenisher

The Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator contains just electrolytes with stevia as a sweetener. It comes in convenient small mini-pencil sized packets. Athletes sometimes get cramps from sugary drinks when you are not sweating profusely, making this an ideal solution. The taste of stevia however is too strong for some people and it may fall short for those requiring a steady supply of glucose, like for runners and cyclists.

Ultima Replenisher uses a wide range of electrolytes, vitamin C, non-GMO maltodextrin, silica and is sweetened with stevia and luo han guo. The taste is stronger than Vega and the opinions are mixed, but if you like the taste of stevia and luo han guo together then you will like this one.


4. Hammer Endurolytes Fizz

Cyclists and runners love Hammer. Fizzy powder with just straight forward electrolytes.

5. PaleoEdge Homemade Electrolyte Drink

32 oz. water
1 orange or cucumber sliced (both with peel)
1 lemon sliced (with peel)
1/4 tsp. Himalayan Sea Salt or Trace Mineral Drops

Combine in a glass water bottle, shake and cool in the refrigerator.

This will serve the purpose of many recreational activities. It supplies a wide range of minerals and will replenish those lost during minimal sweat. I like to also keep blended watermelon frozen in the freezer and eat it like a slushy after working out in the summer.

Worst

1. Gatorade

Gatorade is owned by PepsiCo, the makers of Pepsi and who dominate the sports drink market at 69 percent. Many of the colors and flavors seem a little extreme with their bright blues and reds. How are these made? The artificial colors and flavors are derived from aromatic hydrocarbons from petrochemicals. In other words, oil. Manufacturers are not required to divulge this information because artificial colors and flavors are considered intellectual property. Some contain hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, hydrogenated coconut oil (fruit punch flavor), and brominated vegetable oil (orange, strawberry), a flame retardant that is banned in Japan and the European Union. A recent article reported that due to consumer pressure, Gatorade is now working on removing brominated vegetable oil and replacing it with sucrose acetate isobutyrate.

You know hydrogenated oils as “trans fats” and some products still contain these despite the numerous studies proving how dangerous they are to our health. They are cheaper than animal fats and provide a longer shelf life for food and beverage products. They are now banned in many restaurants across the US due to their negative health impacts, one of which destroys the porosity and flexibility of healthy cell membranes. Likewise, the bromine, in brominated oils, is a toxin and a goitrogen (harmful to the thyroid).

Gatorade contains 14 grams of sugars coming from sucrose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup. It is the second ingredient listed after water. As it is, the average American eats 142 pounds of sugar a year, or about 2.5 pounds each week. That’s a 23 percent increase over the last 25 years, and it is a major cause of tooth decay and soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.

Gatorade includes other questionable chemicals and artificial dyes. Major studies have documented links between hyperactivity in children and food additives like these excitotoxins.

2. Powerade 

Powerade is owned by Coca-Cola and dominates 30 percent of the market. The online ingredients of the Powerade Berry & Tropical are water, glucose, fructose, citric acid, mineral salts (sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium phosphate), flavourings, acidity regulator (potassium citrate), stabilisers (acacia gum, glycerol esters of wood rosins), sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame K), colour (brilliant blue). (You have to go to 3rd party websites to find the US ingredients).

You have to break down the label a little more to see what exactly is water, glucose, fructose, “flavorings,” sucralose acesulfame K and “color,” which I can promise you is not brilliant. The other interesting part in my search is that Powerade is fairly clever in deceiving the customer by getting around the high fructose corn syrup label online. It is also interesting that the European spelling of flavour and colour is used.  Why would they do this? Because in certain countries, they label high fructose corn syrup as water, glucose and fructose! It is the SAME THING. High fructose corn syrup is water, glucose and fructose. The U.S. label has to tell the ugly truth. Nice try Powerade. If you consume high fructose corn syrup within two hours post-exercise, you will increase somatostatin which will in turn destroy the production of HGH, negating many of the benefits from exercise.

Here is the U.S. label. Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Less than 0.5% of: Citric Acid, Salt and Potassium Citrate and Magnesium Chloride and Calcium Chloride and Potassium Phosphate (electrolyte sources),Natural FlavorsModified Food StarchCalcium Disodium EDTA(to protect color), Medium Chain Triglycerides (contains coconut oil), Brominated Vegetable Oil,Vitamin B3 (niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride),Vitamin B12, Red #40

Despite pressure on Gatorade to remove Brominated Vegetable Oil, Powerade has at this time chosen to keep the flame retardant in their drink, not to mention a red dye.

Powerade has 20 packed grams of high fructose corn syrup leading the way to type 2 diabetes.

3. Powerade Zero

Also made by Coca Cola, you see the artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame K and artificial colors. The troubling part for me with sucralose – also known as Splenda – is that is has a covalent bond with chlorine, creating an organochlorine. What are organicchlorines? Agent Orange, DDT, PCB’s, pesticides and insecticides. That’s correct. Your body cannot break these down and are extremely harmful. Ionic bonds with chlorine are found in compounds like salt, covalent bonds with chlorine are found in poisonous and carcinogenic compounds. Sucralose has been found to wreak havoc on intestinal bacteria (up to 50% destruction), which makes sense looking at its chemical structure. Your beneficial bacteria is responsible for up to 80 percent of your immune system, your ability to lose weight, and emerging research is connecting anxiety and depression to low beneficial bacteria populations.

Ingredients: Water, citric acid, mineral salts (sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium phosphate), colour (anthocyanins), natural raspberry flavouring with other natural flavourings, acidity regulator (E332), sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame K), color (E133).

4. Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is also owned by Coca-Cola. You may have noticed that the bottle contains “2.5 servings” which means you need to multiply everything by 2.5, a deceiving way to lower the amounts on the label from first glance. There are 32.5 grams of sugar in each bottle of Vitaminwater, compared to 39 grams of sugar in one can of Coke. Too much sugar will make you cramp while you’re competing. As for the vitamins, they are synthetic, incomplete and worthless to the body.

5. Accelerade 

This has a poor combination of sucrose, fructose and GMO soy protein (many of the documented health risks of GMO’s can be found in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods). For many sports and activities, drinking protein while exercising at maximum effort can cause gastric distress. For triathletes and the Ironman, the requirements and replenishing schedules are different. Look for non-GMO protein sources like Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem.

Ingredients: Sucrose, whey protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, citric acid, fructose, natural flavors, soy lecithin, magnesium carbonate, salt, red beet, xanthan gum, maltodextrin, potassium phosphate, vitamin E acetate, ascorbic acid.

6. Cytomax

From the makers of Muscle Milk – one of the most contaminated protein drinks – comes Cytomax.  Its advanced carbohydrate system doesn’t look to be anything but derivatives of GMO corn and it uses both natural and artificial flavor (both which are not named) making this a poor choice. *Update: They took the artificial flavor out recently but have not updated their labels online. Still not convinced of the purity of this product until further testing is done.

I hope this helps you choose your electrolyte drinks. Stay hydrated my friends.

See also:

Best and Worst Whey Protein Powders

Best and Worst Protein Bars for Sports

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51 Responses to Best and Worst Electrolyte Drinks

  1. Rick Osborn says:

    Regarding Accelerade. I’m not sure what sort of training this blog addresses. Check the 2nd water bottle on 1/2 of the people in any triathlon group training ride. They have Accelerade or Hammer Perputuum in it. (The other bottle is plain water.)

    The theory is this. Protein takes 4 hours for the body to process. Having protein in the drink places it in the digestive system to be picked up for recovery. Most group rides last around 2-3 hours. So the timing works. It’s probably not good timing for a 1 hour trip to the gym.

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  2. Alex Swanson says:

    Hey Rick,

    This blog addresses a wide range of sports and activities. I should clarify that the entire electrolyte list is not limited to triathlons and will update it to be more clear. You are right regarding the protein requirements for triathletes, and Accelerade and Ensure are popular choices. However I would still not endorse them due to the use of GMO soy protein, which has many documented health risks. Hammer Perpetuem uses GMO free soy protein, and while it’s not my favorite protein, it would be the best option of the three.

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  3. Livingston Miller says:

    Shouldn’t Ultima Replenisher be at the very top of your “Best Electrolyte Drinks” list?

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Ultima Replenisher is definitely a solid choice in terms of ingredients, I have just received complaints regarding the taste. It’s probably because they mix stevia and luo han guo which can be a little too sweet for some people. I will add it next to the Vega product which also uses stevia so people can try both. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Jeff says:

    what would be the best choice for a non-stop 24 hr endurance handcycle challenge?

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hey Jeff,

      For an event of that duration, you will definitely want something more like Hammer Perpetuem, in addition to adequate water, gels, easy to digest snacks etc. Muscle repair will be an important part of your endurance. Remember that once Perpetuem is mixed, it is only good for 3-5 hours so you may want to mix it as needed. Keeping measured amounts in plastic bags is a good way to do this. Good luck! Very impressive.

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  5. Simon says:

    Cracking report Alex, not alot of these out there.
    Looking at the other end of the exercise spectrum, 1-2hrs training, and to save on buying endless plastic bottles, I really like your Homemade drink. Is there any other minerals you’d add since writing this and could you make up and freeze in say ice cube bags to use as and when over time?

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hey Simon,

      Happy to help. What you could do is put all the ingredients in a jug the night before and stick it in the fridge overnight. Then strain it in the morning and freeze it ice cube trays. You can do this with a variety of berries as well if you want to mix it up. If you don’t mind the gel like consistency of chia seeds, I would add those as well for extra minerals. They have a rich history for being used for endurance by regulating hydration.

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  6. Simon says:

    Alex, thank you for your swift response, that sounds like a master plan!
    I’ll let you know how I go
    Cheers

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  7. Clair says:

    Are any of these suitable for children? My daughter is 11 and a very keen tennis player. Lots of kids seem to have the likes of powerade at tournaments but I’ve tried to keep my daughter away from those evils (the drinks, not the other kids!!) however now that she’s playing in tournaments that are sometimes lasting 4hrs+ she needs something more than just water and bananas!! I recently bought a power/energy bar thingie but on the back it states not suitable for children :/ She gets stomach cramps if she eats too much so I was wondering if some sort of drink/shake might be the answer?
    Thanks in advance!

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hi Clair,

      Great job on being aware of what to give your daughter! I would recommend the Hammer Nutrition Heed for kids, especially for tennis. I didn’t see anything on the label that would be unsuitable for children, and I called the company for you to double check and they said it was fine. Depending on her weight, it is 0.5/1 scoop per hour up to 90lbs, and 0.75/1 scoop per hour for 90-120lbs. If something like a bar or drink states it is unsuitable for children, it’s usually because it contains a stimulant like caffeine. Although they should have it for HFCS, artificial flavors and colors too right? If she is going for 4+ hours, she will most likely need a food source as well.

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      • Clair says:

        Thank you for your swift and informative response. I’ve read other good reviews on the Hammer Nutrition Heed so I think we’ll be giving it a go.
        Thanks again.

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        • Clair says:

          Just a quick update. We’ve bought a couple of sachets of Hammer HEED for my daughter to try and she’s getting on v well with it, it does just what it’s supposed to do without any added ‘evils’! Many thanks for your help and advice. Clair :)

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          • Alex Swanson says:

            Awesome! Thanks for letting me know.

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  8. Jerry says:

    I’m 75 years old and I’m in fairly good shape for my age. I go to PlantFitness about 2 to 3 times a wk. so I would like to know what i should and should not be drinking.
    I have a heart condition called A-Fib. I’m taking meds for that and hi blood pressure and hi cholesterol.
    I know your no doctor but I still would like your thoughts.

    Thank you

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hi Jerry,

      I’d be happy to help. Are you referring to which electrolyte drinks you should or should not be drinking? Or general guidelines?

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  9. Jerry says:

    Right now I’m asking about the right electrolyte drinks for my age and moderate exercises.

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      There shouldn’t be any problems with these electrolyte drinks to the best of my knowledge for you, but I would check with your cardiologist with the product you choose to play it safe.

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  10. Ben Rice says:

    I’m 15 years old and I was wondering if there is anything that I would be able to drink for energy, because when i play soccer of a weekend and sometimes during training I feel like I am completely out of energy, and this is with a banana smoothie before hand. So would there be anything that I could have instead that would give me more energy?

    Thanks in advance

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hey Ben,

      If you are not using an electrolyte drink yet, I would highly recommend using Hammer Nutrition Heed which will help with energy quite a bit. Drink 8 ounces 20-30 minutes prior, then continue to drink it throughout the duration. Your energy levels are also highly dependent on your meals leading up your game or practice. You may not be getting enough glycogen storage, and since you are 15, you are probably burning through fuel like an SUV. Increase your protein, carbs and fat for dinner the night before, breakfast and lunch 2 hours before a game or practice. Consider any of these bars prior if you still need more calories beforehand or if you want something convenient. http://paleoedge.com/best-and-worst-protein-bars-for-sports/

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  11. Ash says:

    I didn’t see GU Electrolyte Brew on your list. Where do you rate it. A doctor told me to drink it during gym work outs because I sweat so much and have back spasms occasionly. I am also diabetic so suger is a concern.

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hey Ash,

      GU Electrolyte Brews falls short on my list since it only contains sodium and potassium, and is lacking calcium, magnesium and chloride. Back spasms or any muscle spasms are usually from a lack of magnesium, as well as potassium and calcium. It terms of sugar and carbohydrates, this is going to depend on the activity since you also don’t want to get exercise induced hypoglycemia. I actually wrote a book on diabetes called The New Menu for Diabetes if you are looking for more ideas on meals, supplements and types of exercise for better blood sugar control.

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  12. […] more on the best and worst sports drinks, I liked an article by Paleoedge. I also like that our Shaklee Performance was one of the two #1 best electrolytic drinks […]

  13. Dianne Markin says:

    Hello. My husband (69) is a truck driver who loads his own trailer. After a hard day his hands and legs start cramping even though he is drinking lots of water during the day and ice tea at a restaurant in the evening. What can he take in his truck besides water?
    Thank you,
    Dianne

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hi Dianne,

      Water often is not hydrating enough because it is lacking electrolytes. I have found the Pure Encapsulations Electrolyte Energy Formula to be the best choice for long drives because the carbohydrate content is lower, but the concentration still requires a steady supply of glucose. If he is diabetic or prediabetic, Ultima will be a better choice. He could keep a bottle of water and the electrolyte drink in the truck along with electrolyte fruits like oranges, tangerines, apples and watermelon. He needs to also be eating a balance of protein, fat and carbs every 3-4 hours. This will help him recover faster. Protein bars can be a convenient way to do this.

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  14. Melissa says:

    Hey Alex – I have found your article and responses to questions very informative. I have been using Cytomax powder for years and have recently started doing research on other options. I do have to admit I was surprised to see it under your worst list (ouch!).

    I am a runner (training for another marathon) and run a slower pace (10 min/mile) so it is not uncommon to be out running on a Saturday for 2-4 hours. It is so hot & humid this time of year that I am soaked from head to toe! I do eat GU while I run, but am curious what you recommend for a electrolyte drink. The Heed seems to be low on Sodium & Potassium…and I am not sure I need the extra carbs since I Gu. Thanks in advance!

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hey Melissa,

      You definitely want to have your bases covered since you are pushing your body to an extreme in hot weather for a long period of time. Typically for this type and duration of training in hot weather, Hammer Perpetuem is recommended if you do not mind using non-GMO soy, which helps with muscle recovery. It has 220mg of sodium and 120mg of potassium. It also has 54 grams of carbohydates, which means you could cut down on the GU. Another option is to combine the Hammer Heed with Endurolytes powder to customize the amounts of electrolytes, and continue to use the GU. Cytomax and Heed only have a 3 carb difference, so I wouldn’t worry about having too many carbs. Experiment and see what works best for your body.

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      • Melissa says:

        Interesting feedback Alex. I don’t have an opinion on GMO one way or another and maybe I should?? In regards to the Perpetuem, it seems almost identical in carbs, sodium, and potassium to cytomax scoop to scoop. What am I missing?

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        • Alex Swanson says:

          Perpetuem actually uses a protein to carbohydrate ratio that Cytomax does not have. This is where I was referencing the non-GMO soy protein. The product most like Perpetuem is actually Accelerade (uses GMO soy protein). Protein helps carbohydrates work better and longer, while helping muscle recovery in long distance races. But, yes you definitely should have an opinion on GMO’s! The short version is that there are many documented health risks assoicated with GMO’s, and it’s the reason most of Europe is banning them. Anything hard on your body effects performance.

          I called the makers of Cytomax to find out what the artificial flavor was that isn’t labeled, and it turns out that they recently took it out and only use natural flavors now. That’s good, however I’m still not confident in their product because of the quality control problems they have had with Muscle Milk.

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          • Melissa says:

            Sorry for the delayed response! Thank you for the details – very helpful. I will definitely try the Perpetuem and let you know! Thanks again!

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  15. Delaney says:

    I have a condition called autonomic dysfunction, which is where the autonomic nervous system has a problem regulating everything from sweating to blood pressure (entirely too low) to breathing properly to heart rate to, well, you get the picture. Bodily functions that you don’t think about are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. One of my biggest problems is that I pass out regularly or become pre-syncopal. Generally, I’m always dizzy when I get up, even if I manage not to pass out.
    I am supposed to drink half my weight in ounces of electrolyte water, but have never found anything that has the right kind of plain water (usually just trace minerals). Or, as you have pointed out, things like Gatorade, Propel, etc. are just plain disgusting. Never liked them before I was diagnosed, either.
    Thank you for your recipe. I have purchased a mammoth glass container with a spigot on it along with pink Himalayan salt and distilled water. Had the citrus. It’s steeping like tea in the fridge right now. I’m hopeful that it’s the right mix for me. I’ve never been a fan of pulpy orange juice, though, so we’ll see how this goes. Do you strain it prior to drinking it or just go ahead and drink it this way?
    Thank you!

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  16. Alex Swanson says:

    Hi Delaney,

    That sounds very challenging for you to work with, and I’d like to help fine tune it for you. I’m a little unclear what  you mean by the “right kind of plain water?”Do you mean the type of water that is used in the pre-made drinks? Have you tried any of the electrolyte powders mentioned added to your own water? While the homemade drink is hydrating, you may require very precise amounts of different minerals as outlined by your doctor. Were you given target amounts of sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium each day?

    Also, the drink will taste like lightly flavored water, so don’t worry about it tasting like pulpy orange juice! You don’t need to strain it, just drink it straight.

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  17. Delaney says:

    Sorry; the clarification on “plain” waters: I meant the brand “Smart Water” or the waters labeled “electrolyte” water by the Whole Foods chain or the Trader Joe’s stores. My electrophysiologist initially pointed out these waters, but I am learning that these are not enough trace minerals. He did not indicate that I needed to supplement with any one of the trace minerals specifically, other than increasing my salt intake.
    I have tried SEVERAL of those powders, and discovered that some are either entirely too salty to my taste or made with stevia, which is entirely too sweet. Apparently, I have Goldilocks syndrome. Nothing is just right.
    One of the challenges I face is that without medication, my blood pressure is generally in the low 80s/low 50s. With medication, I can bring it up to 96/64. That’s actually the highest consistent number for me, but it fluctuates at a ridiculous rate with that being the highest I can depend on having. Electrolyte water is the one thing that the doctor insists on me drinking. Increasing my salt intake is encouraged. I actually detest salt, and have never owned a salt shaker.
    I know I can order salt tabs from the internet, but we found this and it seemed like a great idea to make this to supplement as well.
    I didn’t use the cucumber as I happen to be allergic (that, and watermelon. Crazy foods to have allergies to, yet I am).
    Thanks so much for your response, Alex.

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  18. Alex Swanson says:

    Got it. In that case, this will be an improvement over the electrolyte waters on the market. Consider doubling the fruit if the taste is still agreeable for you. If you don’t mind the texture, chia seeds and limes can also be used. Chia seeds are a rich source of minerals and keep the body hydrated. They have been highlighted with runners for their ability to enable going longer without water.

    For example:
    32 oz. water
    2 limes sliced
    2 lemons slices
    1 Tbsp. chia seeds
    1/4 tsp. Himalayan sea salt
    *If you are not opposed to using raw sugar cane, a little bit can be added to balance the sourness. Sugar cane, chia seeds and lime juice is actually the drink highlighted in the book Born to Run from the Tarahumara runners.

    Keep me updated with how you feel and if you need anything improved without compromising the taste.

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  19. Eileen says:

    Hi Alex, I hope you can help with this issue … My husband gets horrific leg cramps. Quite often his calf muscles are so tight they feel like extra bones when I massage them. It was suggested that he drink more electrolytes, such as Gatorade. Your article indicates this is not the best choice and I’m wondering which or the products you recommend would be better.
    I should mention that he’s 65 and recovering (nicely) from a bone marrow transplant. He has always been very active and is working hard to get back into shape, but the leg pain is slowing him down. I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

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    • Alex Swanson says:

      Hi Eileen,

      Leg cramps – especially in the calf – are almost always magnesium deficiencies. I usually recommend 400mg daily. It can also be a CoQ10 deficiency as well. This usually occurs if someone has taken a statin drug for an extended period of time, however in your husbands case he may be low depending on his condition. I would discuss both with your doctor. Magnesium Citramate and Q-Best 100mg by Thorne Research are both excellent products. For an electrolyte base for training I would recommend HEED for him. Please let me know if you have any other questions, and happy to hear your husband is recovering well!

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