A decade or two ago, the concept of replacing electrolytes was mainly reserved for hardcore athletes. You know, the Gatorade-guzzling running backs, triathletes and tennis pros going five sets in the summer sun. But today, as more and more people aim to stay active and keep their bodies healthy, the “need” for electrolytes has become much more mainstream. Everywhere I turn—at the gym, on the subway, in a restaurant, at the movies or even in my accountant’s office—people are pounding down their favorite brand of electrolyte-enhanced bottled water, or the more natural source, coconut water.. Clearly there’s a trend here. Then I started thinking… is electrolyte water—like so many other dietary and lifestyle trends—really as necessary as it’s cracked up to be. Moreover, I wondered if the trend could do us more harm than good. Here are my insights on this trend.
First, electrolytes, which include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride, are essential to the human body. Among other functions, they help keep fluid levels balanced (that is, prevent cells from drying up or bursting from too much fluid), regulate blood pressure and blood acidity and help muscles contract—which means they help keep our hearts beating, lungs breathing, arms moving, legs walking and so forth.
Secondly, the consensus is that the average person gets sufficient amounts of electrolytes from diet and doesn’t need supplements. In other words, as we’ve discussed earlier in Water Street, regular tap water is just as good, if not better, than nutrient-enhanced bottled water—and it’s certainly better for the environment. There are, however, some circumstances that put people at risk for losing electrolytes too quickly. During these situations, electrolyte water can help maintain the necessary levels and prevent physical harm:
- Exercising for more than one hour
- Exposure to sun and/or heat for an extended period of time
- If you’re a heavy sweater, even during light physical activity
- Illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea
If you’re a person whose makeup or activity levels necessitate electrolyte water, try to keep it green! You can make your own electrolyte water in a reusable glass pitcher with everyday ingredients such as salt, tap water, and fruit juices and nectars—eliminating the plastic-bottle buildup from store-bought brands.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that in some cases, too much electrolyte water can have an adverse effect on one’s health, as described here. In a similar way, drinking too much water without electrolyte consideration can cause anything from mild to very serious health issues due to overhydration.
In summary, like so many things relating to diet, exercise and health, it all comes down to making informed choices and striking a balance that avoids too much, as well as too little, of a good thing—in this case, electrolytes and hydration.