Drinking electrolyte powder may not be good for you, experts say. Many packets contain way too much sodium.
- Trendy electrolyte packets are the newest health and hydration rage.
- But one expert says the health risks associated with the packets could outweigh the benefits.
If you're keyed into trends in health and wellness, you've probably been hit with the messaging that electrolyte powder packets are exactly what you need for optimum hydration — but some experts say the trendy supplements can actually do more harm than good.
Electrolyte powder commonly comes in slender, single-serve, colorful packets that are intended to be mixed into water. The ingredients tend to include different types of electrolytes and a sweetener of some kind, either sugar or an artificial one.
What are electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals — such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium — that are essential to keeping the body balanced and functioning properly.
Intense workouts or illnesses — anything that causes water loss and dehydration — can lower electrolyte levels in the body. Losing too many electrolytes can produce an imbalance that can cause brain fog, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, or life-threatening complications in severe cases.
Thankfully, our bodies get electrolytes from much of what we eat and drink on a regular basis, including table salt, fruits, vegetables, and milk, Anureet Kaur Shah, an associate professor of nutrition and food science at California State University, Los Angeles, told Insider.
As a result, the vast majority of people likely do not need to be replenishing their electrolytes — except maybe in the case of an exceptionally strenuous or sweaty workout such as a hike on a hot day, she added.
"If you're sweating a lot, then you lose all these electrolytes, then you can have this," Kaur Shah said of electrolyte supplements. "But these companies, they will say that anybody can drink. No, that's not true."
Electrolyte packets and sodium
Electrolyte packets often contain excessive amounts of sodium and sugar, which helps with sodium absorption. But the chances that an average person is lacking in sodium are extremely low, she said.
"Sodium is something which we get from ample sources," Kaur Shah said, "so we don't have to consume it in the form of electrolyte mix unless we are sweating a lot or we are losing a lot of water."
Top health agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and American Heart Association recommend the average person intake less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, which is equal to about one teaspoon of table salt.
Some popular electrolyte packets contain up to 1,000 milligrams of sodium, or 43% of the daily recommended value.
People who have a well-rounded diet will almost certainly exceed their daily sodium intake if they also consume electrolyte packets, Kaur Shah said. Our bodies also have an internal system that is good at reabsorbing sodium even if it's lacking, she added.
Dangers of too much sodium
High sodium intake can lead to a variety of health issues. Sodium is involved in muscular contraction and iron transports throughout the body, Kaur Shah said. Consuming too much sodium can actually create an imbalance of electrolytes, which can disrupt iron movement and lead to hypertension and ongoing cardiovascular problems.
Some electrolyte packet companies argue that the science shows daily recommended sodium values are actually too low and people should be consuming two to three times as much.
Kaur Shah said she's familiar with such claims.
"But we have to go with what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend," she said. The guidelines, which are released by the USDA and updated every five years, were last published in 2020.
Some electrolyte packets, as well as certain sports drinks, such as Gatorade, have lower levels of sodium that account for about 10% of the daily recommended value. These products are okay in moderation, Kaur Shah said, but should still probably not be consumed daily.
For most people, the risks of overdoing their sodium intake likely outweigh the potential benefits of regularly consuming electrolyte packets, Kaur Shah said.
Unless you're a chronic sweater, someone diagnosed with a specific disorder that requires electrolyte supplementation, have just done a strenuous workout, or recovering from an illness that has left you dehydrated, plain old water may ultimately be the healthier hydration choice.
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