Physical Health

“Do I Really Need to Supplement?” and Everything Else You Need To Know About Electrolytes

plus, signs you have an electrolyte imbalance

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Electrolyte products"
Electrolyte products
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

If you’ve found yourself in your gym girlie era, chances are you’ve heard of electrolytes, but the extent of your knowledge of them starts and ends with boosting hydration, or perhaps Gatorade’s neon-colored bevvies. While sports drinks have a bad rap for their additives (think: sugar and artificial dye), the electrolytes they contain can do your hydration goals a solid, especially after you’ve worked up a sweat. But what even is an electrolyte, and do you really need to add the buzzworthy supplement to your regimen? I turned to experts to explain and find out how you can tell if you have an electrolyte imbalance. Read on to get the lowdown on everything you need to know about electrolytes. 



What Are Electrolytes, and Why Do You Need Them?

“Electrolytes are essential minerals that carry an electric charge in our bodies,” explained Dr. Praveen Guntipalli, Medical Director and Owner of Sanjiva Medical Spa. “They play a vital role in maintaining various physiological functions, such as nerve signaling, muscle contractions, and fluid balance. The most common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphate, and are present in bodily fluids like blood, urine, and sweat.” Electrolytes are vital to specific processes that keep your body functioning as it should, namely maintaining proper hydration and nervous system and muscle function as well as regulating the body’s internal pH levels. 

“When we engage in physical activities or experience excessive sweating due to hot weather or intense exercise, we lose electrolytes,” Dr. Guntipalli continued. “Thus, replenishing them becomes crucial to prevent dehydration and maintain overall health.  Whether through electrolyte-rich foods or drinks, maintaining a balanced intake of these minerals is necessary for optimal bodily functions and overall well-being.”


Common Symptoms Related to Lack of Electrolytes

So how do you know if you’re not getting enough? The telltale signs related to a lack of electrolytes, often referred to as electrolyte imbalances, can vary depending on which specific electrolyte is affected and the severity of the imbalance, according to Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, a nutritionist and ACE-certified trainer. “However, some common symptoms may include muscle cramps or weakness, fatigue or lethargy, dizziness or lightheadedness, confusion or difficulty concentrating, and headaches,” she conveyed. Maria Tointon, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and CEO of Veg Out With Maria, laid out some of the common symptoms to look out for based on the type of electrolyte deficiency:

Sodium: fatigue, headache, nausea, confusion, muscle weakness, and seizures 

Potassium: muscle weakness or cramps, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and constipation

Chloride: fluid loss, dehydration, weakness or fatigue, difficulty breathing, diarrhea or vomiting

Calcium: muscle cramps, numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes, weakened bones, and dental problems

Magnesium: muscle spasms, tremors, weakness, fatigue, and irregular heartbeat


Do You Need to Supplement to Get Enough Electrolytes?

In most cases, a well-rounded diet packed with fruits and vegetables can provide sufficient electrolytes for the average person. That said, “Unfortunately, many people do not eat a balanced diet so the use of electrolyte replacement can be important for many people,” Sabat suggested. “In addition, intense physical activity, prolonged sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, or certain medical conditions may lead to increased electrolyte losses and a need for additional supplementation.” In other words, you should get all the electrolytes you need from an ideal diet, but on days when your fruit and veggie intake is lower or you’re extra depleted (i.e. if you’re doing a sweaty workout, traveling, or feeling under the weather), you may benefit in supplementing to restore electrolyte levels.

Cue electrolyte supplements like powders or tablets (shop our picks below!). Check with your doctor or nutritionist before starting an electrolyte supplement, and read the ingredient labels carefully when choosing the right one for you (beware of added sugar and artificial sweeteners). Don’t want to purchase another supplement? You can also try some hacks to get in electrolytes, such as adding a pinch of high-quality sea salt to your water, sipping on coconut water, or snacking on electrolyte-rich foods (see below for some ideas).

How much electrolytes you need depends on your body, your sweat content, and the weather, so talk to your doctor about testing or your electrolyte needs. According to the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, you can lose anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 liters of sweat per hour of exercise, so if you’re working out for an extended period of time and/or in the heat, you can do your body some good by replenishing electrolytes lost with an electrolyte-enhanced fluid during or after your workout.  


Foods That Contain Electrolytes

To get your daily dose of electrolytes, you can also look to your kitchen staples. Sabat shared several foods that naturally contain electrolytes and can help maintain a healthy balance of essential minerals.

Sodium: sea salt, pickles, olives, celery, beets, anchovies

Potassium: bananas, oranges, avocados, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, yogurt

Calcium: dairy products (i.e. milk, cheese, yogurt), leafy greens (i.e. kale, broccoli), fortified plant-based milk, tofu

Magnesium: nuts and seeds (i.e. almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds), spinach, legumes, whole grains, dark chocolate

Chloride: table salt, seaweed, olives, tomatoes, lettuce


Shop Electrolytes


Moon Juice
Mini Dew
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Electrolyte Drink Mix

Available in nine flavors!

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Liquid I.V.
Hydration Multiplier

Available in 12 flavors!

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Hydration + Weekend Recovery

Available in five flavors!

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Rapid Hydration Drink Mix

Available in four flavors!

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Electrolyte Drink Tablets

Available in 13 flavors!

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Watermelon Water with Electrolytes and Antioxidants

Available in four flavors!

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100 Coconuts
Pure Coconut Water

Available in three flavors!

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Open Water
Sparkling Water with Electrolytes
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Pressed Juicery
Hydration+ Collection: Greens, Dragon Fruit, and Watermelon Fitness Shot
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Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.