Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Guest Post: Electrolyte Replacement Drinks

by Stephanie Osborn

I first started using electrolyte replacement drinks when I was active in equestrian sports, baking my brains out under a riding helmet in an open field without any shade at all. In a humid Alabama summer with heat indices well over 105ยบ F, wearing protective body armor on top of a hot, sweating horse gets hot for the rider fast. When I suffered heat exhaustion verging on heatstroke on the field one day, I realized I needed to start doing something to replenish fluids and electrolytes, so I started grabbing a couple of quart bottles of that old standby, Gatorade, throwing them in a cooler, and heading out to my event. I’d pull out my chilled bottle and down it over the course of the event, often working well into a second quart by the end of the event. Problem solved... or so I thought.

As it turns out, that didn’t work so well. I started having a lot of problems with fluid retention, even developing rather severe vertigo on several occasions, becoming so dizzy I was unable to stand, which was sufficient to send me to a doctor. That’s when I found out I needed to do something different.

According to many doctors to whom I’ve talked, most commercial electrolyte fluids actually do not do that great a job at replacing electrolytes. Sure, they replace sodium and potassium, but at very high levels, which means they contain too much sodium. Most doctors I’ve talked to recommend diluting them with plain water by at least half; some have recommended 1 part “electrolyte replacement” to 3 parts plain water. They also don't provide any of the other minerals the body uses as electrolytes.

According to Medical News Today, and substantiated by several similar sources, the electrolytes needed by the human body include (but I suspect may not be limited to):
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Bicarbonate
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride/chlorine
  • Phosphate
That’s a wee bit longer list than the standard sodium & potassium found in most sports drinks, huh?

In addition to Loki’s recommendation, two I’ve used successfully in the past include Emergen-C  (avoid the varieties with caffeine if you are trying to replace fluids), and Energy-C with Electrolytes, by Swanson. Emergen-C has also come out with a line specific to electrolyte replacement, called Hydration. (I haven’t tried this one yet.)

All of these come in a box of convenient one-serving packets, though not infrequently I only use part of a packet per bottle of water — since one packet can make around 2 quarts, at 30 packs per box, you’ve got a couple months of daily hydration and electrolyte replacement. If you’re working out really heavily in the heat, you might boost usage to one per day, but even so that’s not too rough on the billfold price-wise.

Another option is something called “sole,” pronounced “SOH-lay.” This is a drink consisting of Himalayan salt (designated halite, but containing far more mineral salts than table salt’s sodium chloride.) Sole is made by placing a large chunk of Himalayan salt (like this) in a non-metallic jar/lid (Tupperware or Rubbermaid containers work well) and covering with room-temperature water, then setting it aside and allowing the chunk to dissolve in the water. This process can take as long as a couple of days; the warmer the room, the faster it progresses. Don’t try to heat the water, though, or you’ll end up with a super-saturated solution which makes things complicated.

This dissolution process makes a fully saturated solution — DO NOT DRINK THIS SOLUTION. It will be far too strong and will make you very ill in numerous ways! — so instead, take anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of this saturated solution (the quantity depends on your taste and your electrolyte needs) and mix it in at least 8 oz. of plain/filtered/distilled water (which can be chilled or not to your preference; I use filtered chilled), then drink that.

The resulting dilution will still taste very salty, but I find that the more I need it, the better it tastes, and I know I no longer need it when the saltiness becomes unpleasant. Furthermore, unless I've been doing some serious exertion in the heat, I typically only drink one of the above glasses per day. If I’ve been doing a lot of activity in the heat, I'll drink a glass after the exertion, then a glass morning and evening for the next few days until I start to lose the taste for it. That’s when I know I can stop. Although in the summer in the South, at least half a glass a day is not a bad plan if you’re outdoors a good bit, or without air conditioning.

Unlike plain table salt dissolved in water, I never have a problem with fluid retention when consuming sole, and it minimizes any muscle cramps, which for me usually aren't the result of sodium depletion, but rather that of potassium, magnesium, etc. When I first started using this, I was frankly skeptical, expecting to have problems with the amount of sodium (fluid retention, vertigo, etc.) yet still having problems with muscle cramps and overheating. Much to my surprise, none of that happened. What's more, my natural tendency toward muscle cramps (including the dreaded nighttime leg cramps) diminishes drastically when I am regularly consuming the stuff.

I keep a small jar of the concentrate in my kitchen all the time now. Refrigeration is not only not necessary, but will cause the salts to leave the solution, weakening it. Should I need to take it with me, I simply throw the container into my travel bag, along with a plastic dose cup, and go. I have to admit, however, that grabbing a handful of packets out of the box of Emergen-C or Energy-C is a lot easier for travel.

In conclusion, there are quite a few options other than the prepared sports drinks that are suitable for fluid and electrolyte replacement, and they'll do quite well for your needs. Best of all, they’re portable.

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