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Drinking enough pure clean water is one of the most important things we can do for overall health. In most cases, water alone is wonderful. For times of exercise and exertion where sweat causes mineral loss, a homemade natural electrolyte drink recipe can also be helpful.
Plain water doesn’t contain high levels of electrolytes. The body loses a lot of minerals during exercise. It can be helpful to add electrolytes and minerals to help rehydration after times of high-intensity exercise or lots of sweating. This doesn’t mean we should all be drinking electrolyte drinks on the regular, but they are helpful at times …
Like this one:
My Cautionary Tale …
This post could also be titled “how to avoid a big hospital charge for IV fluids while on vacation.” Hopefully you can learn from my mistake on this one.
Here’s what happened:
My husband and I finally got away for a long overdue 10-year anniversary trip (it was a long time after our actual anniversary … because babies). His version of “relaxing” is doing all the activities, so we were snorkeling, sailing, and had plans to scuba dive.
Normally, if we’re going to be out in the sun doing strenuous activities, I make this recipe and have it with me. On this trip, since the kids weren’t with us, I’d foolishly forgotten some of the ingredients and figured I’d just make sure to drink enough water. That was working fine until one night (after a long day of snorkeling), I had wine with dinner and probably not enough water.
The next morning, we didn’t have any non-tap water in the room so I grabbed a coffee instead and figured I’d get some water when we got to the beach.
Cue Heat Exhaustion
The beach was busy so it took them a couple of hours to bring our water. At that point, I noticed I was getting a headache. I started drinking water but the headache got worse and I also started having a rapid pulse, dizziness, and nausea.
We went back to the room and I cooled off, hydrated, and rested. But the symptoms continued to persist and I felt weaker and more dizzy throughout the day. By that night I’d realized that despite drinking a LOT of water, I still had symptoms of mild dehydration and heat exhaustion.
We decided to go in to the hospital so I could get fluids. I probably would have been just fine with rest and rehydration over the next few days, but we were nearing the end of our trip and I didn’t want to be in bed for the rest of our vacation.
International Hospitals …
In many ways, the international hospital we went to was much more efficient than the ones back home. We checked in quickly, were able to pre-pay, and the doc agreed that I had heat exhaustion and ordered an IV. He said that because my electrolytes had been depleted from sweating, I was having trouble rehydrating from water alone as my body needed the minerals as much as the fluids. (IV fluid is isotonic, meaning it has the same mineral concentration as the blood.)
The doctor decided to insert the IV in my hand, so I expected a normal small butterfly needle often used for this. But he pulled out a 12-gauge needle (like the kind they use when you give blood). After the most painful IV of my life (and I’ve had a lot … because babies), the fluids were in and I immediately started feeling better.
So after several hours of sitting in an international hospital getting hydrated with IVs, I couldn’t help but think how much easier, cheaper, and less painful things would have been if I’d remembered the ingredients for this electrolyte drink while traveling.
Why Not Regular Sports Electrolyte Drinks?
So why not just drink one of the many electrolyte drinks available (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) these days?
Not only do they have a lot of questionable ingredients, but making your own is easy, fast, and a LOT healthier.
Regular sports drinks contain ingredients such as:
Water, sucrose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, natural grape flavor with other natural flavors, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, red 40, blue 1.
They also typically have fruit-like flavors but labels that say “contain no fruit.”
I’m all for re-hydrating, but are the monopotassium phosphate, mystery “natural flavors,” and artificial dyes really necessary? I know from experience that these ingredients typically make me feel terrible and just aren’t worth it.
Now, when more than just water is needed for hydration (softball games, triathlons, labor, etc.), we make our own version.
Natural Sports Electrolyte Drink Recipe
Coconut water is one of the simplest sports drink alternatives and can be used as is.
Apparently, coconut water is similar in structure to the fluid used in IV rehydration. For this reason, there are rumors it was used during the Pacific War as an IV electrolyte replacement. It makes a pretty good natural electrolyte drink on its own or with a splash of lime.
Coconut water contains more potassium than sports drinks and more natural sources of sodium. A lot of athletes swear by it these days and I had it on hand during my last couple of labors.
The only downside to coconut water is the price. If you want an inexpensive (yet still healthy and tasty) alternative, this recipe is the next best thing.
Natural Homemade Electrolyte Drink Recipe
You can make this recipe a variety of ways, but the ratios are the most important part. The base is any healthy liquid of choice and some good options are:
To turn the basic liquid into a sports drink, add some or all of these ingredients:
- Salt – A high quality salt adds sodium and other minerals
- Calcium or Magnesium – Adding a high quality calcium magnesium powder helps replenish minerals
- Juice – Optional but adds sweetness and natural sugars if needed during exercise
- Natural Flavors – I’m not talking about the more pleasant-sounding name for the not-so-nice additive MSG. Add natural flavors in the form of fresh ginger, fresh herbs, or even natural flavored stevia extracts
- LMNT – I’m a big fan of these flavored salt packets that replace vital electrolytes lost from sweating. In fact, they work amazing on their own with just water.
Electrolyte Drink Recipe: Basic Ingredients
Here’s the basic recipe and ratios I use, but you can customize to your personal taste preferences:
Natural Sports Electrolyte Drink Recipe (With Flavor Options)
- Brew tea if using, or slightly warm base liquid.
- Add sea salt and calcium magnesium and mix.
- If using, add juice and sweetener and mix or shake well.
- Cool and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- Will last up to four days in refrigerator, but I prefer to make as needed.
Another easy alternative is just mixing Vitamin C powder with water and a little juice, though this can be a little acidic during high intensity exercise!
Do We Really Need Electrolytes?
The sports drink industry is massive! I often see 4-year-olds playing soccer sucking down bottles and packages of brightly colored sports drinks. This begs the question: do we really need electrolytes every time we exercise?
There is a tremendous difference between someone who exercises for the health benefits and an elite athlete. High-level athletes burn through a lot of liquid, electrolytes, and blood sugar during their training and competitions.
As casual athletes or weekend warriors, most of the rest of us probably don’t need sports drinks most of the time.
In a perfect world, we would be able to obtain enough nutrients from diet alone and wouldn’t need any supplements or added drinks like this.
The question of if electrolytes and sports drinks are really needed varies by individual. In many cases, pure water may be just as good of an option. It’s certainly better than neon sports drinks with high fructose corn syrup!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What’s your favorite sports drink? Ever made your own?