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What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals found in bodily fluids which carry electrical charge. The maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance is essential to maintaining normal body functions such as heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and nerve impulse transmission. Major electrolytes include potassium, sodium, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium.

What do electrolytes do?

Electrolytes are important in maintaining many normal bodily functions. Most prominently, they maintain muscle contractions such as your heartbeat by sending and receiving signals between muscles and the brain. Electrolytes also help regulate the water in your body, help your blood to clot, build new tissue and even help maintain a normal pH balance in your blood.

How do I get electrolytes?

Electrolytes are plentiful in a wide range of common foods and drinks. Major electrolytes include potassium, sodium, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium.

Foods plentiful in electrolytes include bananas, watermelon, avocados, cheese, and poultry. If you’re thirsty, coconut water, fruit juice, and milk are all high in electrolytes.

Gatorade, Poweraid, and other sports beverages also contain electrolytes. However, they also tend to be extremely high in sugar and food coloring.

Do sports drinks like Gatorade have electrolytes?

Yes. Gatorade and most sports drinks contain plenty of electrolytes in the form of sodium and potassium. However, they also contain high amounts of added sugar and artificial dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity (especially in children) and cancer.

One study from the University of California at Berkeley found that Gatorade may be better than water for children and endurance athletes engaging in at least 60–90 minutes of vigorous exercise. However, adults not engaging in 60–90 minutes of exercise will likely not see any benefits from sports drinks.

Does water have electrolytes?

Both tap and bottled water contain at least trace amounts of electrolytes such as sodium and magnesium. However, the exact amount varies widely. Some bottled water brands are infused with extra electrolytes to help replenish your stores while exercising.

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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