Consuming adequate levels of this electrolyte solution is essential for the human body to function. Maintaining a proper balance of these nutrients during intense physical activity is even more important.
There are a ton of electrolytes replacements on the market—from sports drinks, powder mixes, dissoluble tablets, performance chews, jelly beans, and supplements. In this post, we help you choose the best electrolyte replacement option for your next hike.
|Calories (per serving)||Price (per serving)|
|Skratch Lbas Hydration Mix||80||$0.98|
|Lyteshow Liquid Concentrate||0||$0.50|
|GU Hydration Drink Mix||250||$2.97|
|Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel||200||$2.50|
|Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier||50||$1.50|
|Key Nutrients Electrolyte Revovery Plus||0||$0.33|
In a hurry? Jump straight to the reviews.
Why Electrolyte Replacements
We lose electrolytes when we lose bodily fluids—dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. During exercise and intense physical activity, we lose large amounts of electrolytes through sweating.
ALL of our common electrolytes are depleted when we sweat. Sweat is mostly water which makes hydration essential. However, sweat also contains large amounts of sodium and chloride as well as small amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and bicarbonate. Go for a long run on a hot day or hike up a big mountain and you can sweat out a huge amount of these electrolytes.
Losing too many electrolytes will lead to an imbalance. An improper balance can cause headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, dehydration and even seizures. Going for an extended period of time with an imbalance can lead to some seriously nasty problems like this long list of deadly diseases.
5 Main Electrolytes
There are a lot of electrolytes—mainly salts, acids and bases. However, there are only a handful that naturally occur in body fluid. These are:
CALCIUM (Ca): Critical to maintaining general bone health, an important consideration with the constant stress backpacking, cycling, running, etc places on your bones. Calcium also ensures your blood properly clots - very important when cut.
FDA Recommended DV: 1,000 mg
Naturally present in:
- Cheese (all, parmesan especially): 1 oz contains 19% DV
- Yogurt: 1 cup/245g contains 38% DV
- Milk (not Almond, but cow, goat, and rice are good options): 16 oz glass contains approx. 42% DV
POTASSIUM (K): This mineral is essential for a lot of organs to function properly, including regulating your heartbeat and kidneys. It also helps with maintain fluid levels, ph balance, and prevent muscle cramps.
FDA Recommended DV: 4,500 mg
Naturally present in:
- Banana: 1 medium (7-8 in. long) contains 422mg, 12% DV
- Coconut Water: 100g contains 250mg, 7% DV
- Dates: 1 cup, chopped, contains 946mg, 27% DV
- Sweet Potatoes: 1 cup, cubed contains 448mg, 12% DV
- Avocados: 1, 975mg, contains 27% DV
SODIUM (Na): Sodium is vital in regulating body fluid volumes. Specifically, regulating water levels, blood pressure and blood volume. The major positively charged ion - called "cation".
FDA Recommended DV: 2,400 mg/day
Naturally present in:
- Sea salt: 1 tsp contains 2,300 mg, 97% DV
- Chicken: 3 oz roast chicken breast contains 309mg, 13% DV
- Beets: 1 cup contains 106mg, 4% DV
- Pickles: 100g contains 1,208 mg, or 1 medium pickle (3-4 in. long) contains 785mg, 32% DV
CHLORIDE (Cl): Works hand in hand with Sodium in regulating your body fluid as well as cell balance. The major negative charged ion - called "anion".
FDA Recommended DV: 3,400 mg/day
Naturally present in:
- Seaweed: 100g contains 233mg, 16% DV
- Celery: 100g contains 89mg, 3% DV
- Tomato: 1 small, 11mg, 3%
MAGNESIUM (Mg): Acts a vehicle in transporting other electrolytes like potassium and calcium through cell membranes. Makes it crucial for the nervous and muscular systems as well as well heart rhythm.
FDA Recommended DV: 400 mg/day
Naturally present in:
- Spinach (or leafy greens): 1 cup, cooked, contains 37% DV
- Nuts and Seeds (one of the most magnesium-rich foods0: 100g serving mixed nuts contains 100-300 mg, 57% DV
- Dark Chocolate: 1 oz contains 64mg, 16% DV
Other important electrolytes are Bicarbonate (HCO3) and Phospate (HPO4). See all FDA recommended daily values.
Types of Electrolyte Replacements
POWDER: LIGHTWEIGHT BUT MAY BE HARD TO DISSOLVE
Electrolyte powder is easy to dissolve and doesn't require fancy blending. They’re sold in bulk or boxes of single-serving packets that are often flavored, which is great in disguising the taste of “less-than-fresh” water. On the downside, you’ll need at least 8 oz of clean water (usually more). Also, no matter how hard you shake or stir, there’s always some powdery stuff that gets left behind.
TABLET: EASY TO USE BUT GENERALLY MORE EXPENSIVE
Packed in durable cases, tablets are easy to use. Just drop, fizz, wait and drink. No stirring or shaking required. They’re also known to be easier to digest for sensitive stomachs. Tablets can run more expensive compared to purchasing bulk powders. You also have to wait for tablets to dissolve.
SUPPLEMENT PILL: VERY EFFECTIVE BUT MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS
Pills (i.e. salt tablets) are convenient, lightweight, and packable. You can take them anywhere and you can pop them on-the-go throughout a long-distance activity. Pills also relieve cramps, nausea, dizziness, and other early effects of dehydration super-fast. Note that some may experience stomach irritation, bloating, or other digestive issues as a side effect. Pills may also cause you to become thirstier, so you’ll need to up your water intake, which can end up diluting the pills.
ELECTROLYTE DRINK: BULKY, WASTEFUL AND MOSTLY UNHEALTHY
You can buy electrolyte drinks anywhere—gas stations, convenience shops, grocery stores. They’re inexpensive, pre-made, and ready-to-drink. However, they are bulky and inconvenient to carry long distances. They’re also single-use and typically loaded with unnecessary sugars and preservatives. Many have as much sugar as a can of soda.
CLEAN LABEL: KEEP IT NATURAL
A LOT of replacements for sale are chemically fortified, contain heavily refined sugars, artificial sweeteners (like harmful aspartame) and artificial coloring.
Re-fuel with natural, clean products without colorants, fillers, nitrates, high fructose syrup, glucose, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. Or really anything that sounds like a chemical.
Also, try to avoid drinks with too much sugar. A small amount of sugar isn’t a bad thing though. Our bodies and bloodstreams absorb liquids quicker when a small level of sugar is present.
Sugar-free options are okay as long as they’re clean. If they’re not, they’re often stocked with artificial sweeteners and preservatives that cause headaches, heartburn, and GI issues.
CALORIES: YOU'LL NEED THEM WHEN HIKING
Electrolyte replacements range from 0 to 100’s of calories.
The higher calorie options are a solid choice when your energy levels need an extra boost—like during long active stretches, where your body could use a pick-me-up. High-calorie electrolyte drinks can give your body calories that it can convert to energy, all while you keep moving.
TRACE MINERALS: A NICE SIDE BENEFIT
If you’re unsure if you’re getting enough electrolytes, then you can request an Electrolyte Profile. These tests measure carbon dioxide, chloride, potassium, and sodium in your blood to see how your body's performing.
Along with adequate electrolytes, we also need plenty of minerals to keep us going.
Electrolytes qualify as “macro-minerals” which we need a larger amount of. But to keep our muscles, bones, and brains healthy, our bodies also require “micro-minerals” or “trace minerals”.
Trace Minerals include the following (Min. requirement listed):
- Chromium: 25-35 mcg
- Copper: 900 mcg
- Iodine: 150 mcg
- Iron: 8-18 mg
- Manganese: 1.5-2.5 mg
- Selenium: 55 mcg
- Zinc: 8-11 mg
10 Best electrolyte replacements
*Note we intentionally excluded Dr. Price, Vega, Gatorade, Powerade, Propel for various reasons.
NUUN - TABLETS
Calories: 15 per tablet
Price per serving: $31.96 (60 tablets)
Drop a tablet in your bottle and watch it fizz away. 10 Nuun tablets come in each convenient pop-top bottle. Only 1 g of sugar per tablet. They champion simple ingredients and include fruit powders and leaf extracts. There are several variations ranging from 10-60 calories, optional caffeine, flavors, and electrolyte combinations.
SKRATCH LABS - MIX
Calories: 80 per serving
Price: $19.50 (20 servings)
Dubbed the "all natural sports drink" - Skratch Labs is a tasty option to mix or shake into a sports drink. Each serving contains 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Depending on your needs, these high levels could be a deal breaker or music to your ears. Naturally flavored by real fruit.
LYTESHOW - LIQUID CONCENTRATE
Type: Drink (concentrate)
Price: $19.95 (40 servings)
This concentration is not designed to be a sweet and tasty sports drink and adds a slightly tart flavor when added to water. However, this stuff packs a punch. It does not have any artificial sweeteners or flavoring - just water and electrolytes. Unlike most replacements, Lyteshow prioritizes Magnesium over Sodium.
ULTIMA REPLENISHER - MIX
Price: $20.99 (20 servings)
Another great all-natural energy mix in easy packets. The best thing about Ultima Replenisher is the long list of electrolytes, vitamins and minerals that are provided. They prioritized Magnesium over Sodium even more than LyteShow. Therefore, note this is a low Sodium mix. Also there are 0 calories and 0 g of sugar.
SALT STICK - CAPSULES
Price: $21.95 (100 caps)
Not as fun or tasty to consume as other replacements on the list. Depending on your activity, the pill form could be the easiest option. These tablets provide dense levels of four main electrolytes - Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium. Don't count on much else though.
Price: $45 (30 servings)
Tasty, sugarless, and made from all-natural ingredients, a single-serving LMNT packet has 1000mg sodium, 200mg potassium, and 60mg magnesium which over doubles the amounts found in average electrolyte drinks. The mix creates a “recharge” drink that replenishes the body, keeping energy levels high and brain fog away. LMNT is recommended for athletes or any following a low-carb, keto, or paleo lifestyle where sodium and electrolytes are easier excreted.
GU ENERGY - MIX
Calories: 250 calories
Price: $40.71 (25 servings)
GU mainly focuses on gels, but also offers some seriously tasty energy drink mixes for endurance athletes. Most servings provide around 70 calories and 9 grams of sugar. Others (like Roctane) get up to a whopping 250 calories and 16 grams of sugar. Also available with caffeine and in packets.
TAILWIND NUTRITION - ENDURANCE FUEL
Calories: 200 calories
Price: $20 (8 servings)
Mix this with water, shake, and now you have a relatively high-calorie drink complete with electrolytes for hydration. No artificial ingredients added. Enjoy its variety of light, refreshing flavors minus the "gut bomb". There is also a caffeinated option available.
Calories: 50 calories
Price: $23.97 (16 servings)
Each single-serving stick of this natural rink mix is equal to drinking 2-3 bottles of water and triple the electrolytes of a sports drink. The drink is designed using “CTT” (Cellular Transport Technology), which is a rationed amount of nutrients, non-GMO sugar, and mined salt for speedy energy and rehydration. Some users have claimed dehydration relief in under 30 minutes! Liquid IV has no fake ingredients and they match each purchase by donating a serving to someone in need.
Price: $29.94 (90 servings)
This bulk electrolyte mix is a steal at just $30 for 90 servings. It has 12 added vitamins and minerals and no carbs, sugar, or calories. It’s caffeine-free, plant-based, non-GMO, and naturally sweetened with stevia extract. Key Nutrients mixes come in 6 flavors (more to come) that you can mix-and-match with each other to create unique, electrolyte-rich concoctions. The tasty mix can be stirred into flavored or unflavored beverages.
NATURAL DRINK OPTIONS
1. COCONUT WATER: Coconut water is often called "nature's Gatorade" and contains an array of essential electrolyte minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Coconut Water also naturally has more potassium than a banana.
2. FRUIT JUICES: Fruit Juices (Orange, Watermelon) have high sources of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium along with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
3. SMOOTHIES: Lastly, smoothies are a healthy pre- or post-workout meal/snack that provides a great dose of electrolytes from fruits and veggies. You can add a dash of salt (you won’t even taste it) for an additional 150 mg of sodium.
How to Use
The rate at which an individual loses electrolytes varies drastically. Activity, intensity, humidity, elevation, gender and weight all play a role in depletion rates which makes estimations so difficult and relatively, inaccurate. We also sweat with varying concentration levels of electrolytes. That being said, for sodium, a general rule of thumb to is to replace 80-240 mg per hour. See another depletion study.
For endurance activities like long-distance backpacking, running and cycling, most athletes consume electrolytes before, during AND after activity. Note you may not need to proactively replace electrolytes if you are doing moderate physical or are active for less than an hour.
Potential Side Effects
Too much of anything is bad news, and this rule applies to hydrating and consuming electrolytes, too. Overdo it and you’ll flush your system of valuable nutrients and be in a whole world of problems.
Take sodium, for example. Salt is already in many everyday foods, so it's easy to get too much which can cause bloating, kidney stones and even increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Overconsumption of other electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and potassium can result in laxative effects and nausea, lethargy, headaches, confusion, and even affect heart and muscle functions.
To stay within the proper levels of hydration, it’s recommended to drink two cups of fluid a few hours before exercise, 4-6 oz every half-hour throughout an activity, and at least 12 oz of water following exercise.