Those who exercise regularly have likely seen plenty of claims about how drinking electrolyte-enhanced water is much better than water alone but is that just marketing hype? A recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition says: Believe it.
Electrolytes are minerals that include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride, and they play an important role in helping the body absorb water and maintain muscle health. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).
To determine how important they truly are, researchers looked at 10 men who ran on a downhill treadmill in a heated room for about an hour in two separate sessions. All participants lost around 2% of their body weight through sweat in each instance and replenished that through plain water during and after one session, and then with electrolyte-infused water for the other.
Drinking the electrolytes showed a significant difference for muscle cramps both during exercise and afterward. When they had plain water, all participants were much more likely to experience cramping.
Many people drink more water while exercising because they believe it’s dehydration that causes muscle cramps, according to lead researcher Ken Nosaka, PhD, director of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University in Australia. But he says that may actually be increasing the risk of cramps, both during and after exercising.
“Plain water dilutes the electrolyte concentration in our bodies, which means it doesn’t replace what’s lost during sweating,” he says. “Also, electrolytes help the body absorb water more effectively, which means you can actually become more hydrated than drinking plain water.”
Another good aspect is that it doesn’t take a major investment to make sure you have enough electrolytes on hand. In fact, you can make your own electrolyte drink, Nosaka says, with ingredients such as:
- Sea salt or Himalayan salt, which retain essential minerals
- Coconut water
- Powered magnesium
- A natural sweetener like raw honey
For an additional boost of recovery, add a little tart cherry juice, which is widely available in concentrate form. Several studies, including a recent meta-analysis, suggest tart cherry improves muscle function, including reduced soreness after exercise.
In addition to drinking the right mix, another important strategy is to train at the right pace, according to Kate Ayoub, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy and health coach at Own Your Movement. You can drink plenty of electrolyte-enhanced water and still suffer from cramps and soreness if you’re doing too much, too fast, she says.
“These are all elements of your training plan, so they need to be looked at in combination,” she suggests. Progress in a slow-and-steady way, focus on muscle recovery and replenish with minerals to keep yourself on track.
For more, be sure to check out This Quick 10-Minute Workout Melts Belly Fat, Says Top Trainer.
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