Read on to learn why electrolyte tablets and powders have become so popular!
Why use electrolyte tablets and powders?
- Reduce plastic waste compared to ready-to-go sports drinks
- Hydrate the body for exercise better than if you just drank water alone
- Delay muscle cramping due to exercise
- Decrease bloating compared to just drinking water alone
How do electrolyte tablets and powders work?
It all boils down to water absorption across the walls of the small intestines. Adding electrolytes, carbohydrates, or protein to water improves water absorption. Traditionally, 4-8% carbohydrates in the form of sugar have been used to improve water absorption.
You might be thinking that drinking sugar would be counter-intuitive. You’re trying to be healthy, after all! Manufacturers thought the same thing and made sugarless formulas. This is probably okay if you’re not exercising intensely but there are a few disadvantages to choosing a sugarless formula:
- They likely won’t taste as good unless they contain sugar alternatives like Stevia or Splenda (sucralose).
- You lose your carbohydrate source for replenishing muscle glycogen throughout exercise when you get rid of sugar. Formulas with carbohydrates seem to work faster compared to other electrolyte formulas according to this new study. From an energy standpoint, sports nutritionists traditionally recommend delaying muscle fatigue by taking easily-digested carbohydrates during long bouts of exercise.
What are they made out of?
On the ingredients list, you could see a wide variety of words that are actually types of electrolytes, carbohydrate sources, and protein sources.
Other words for electrolytes:
- Salt (sodium chloride)
Other words for carbohydrates:
- Dextrose (sugar)
- Glucose (sugar)
- Fructose (sugar)
Other words for protein:
- Amino Acids
- Aspartic Acid
In summary, all of these components are used to assist your body in absorbing more water than if you just drank plain water. Better water absorption means better hydration and less bloating (for some people), which means better performance and delayed muscle cramping.
Who benefits from electrolyte tablets and powders?
- Most research on electrolyte tablets and powders is on people who exercise often. A small study showed better hydration with Nuun tablets compared to water in individuals who exercised at least 3 hours per week. The tablets appeared to improve hydration even though participants didn’t participate in vigorous exercise in the 24 hours prior to taking the tablets.
- Possibly people who experience muscle cramping from exercise could benefit from taking electrolyte tablets and powders. Another small study showed that moderately physically active people who drank water mixed with Gatorade powder and salt stayed better hydrated and delayed cramps compared to not drinking anything. Of note, a high percentage of participants still experienced cramps even after drinking the Gatorade. People with high sweat rates tended to be the ones to experience cramping.
Do I need to take electrolytes?
It depends on your goal. You can look at this from two angles: Water absorption and replacing lost electrolytes.
- Water Absorption: Sodium is known to help improve water absorption. So if your goal is to prevent becoming dehydrated, an electrolyte solution may help.
- Replacing lost electrolytes: Most people who are not athletes don’t need to replace electrolytes in amounts greater than what you get from eating food. See this article from Healthline for more information and for food sources of electrolytes.
- Electrolyte tablets and powders could be a great solution for people who need to maintain hydration or replenish lost electrolytes during long bouts of exercise.
- There is no “one size fits all”. There are a lot of different formulas that range in the amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes. Ask your TNT provider to help you choose a formula that meets your goals the best. It may require several trials to find one that tastes good, minimizes stomach discomfort, and improves water retention.
- Try to prevent dehydration by drinking water throughout the day. Start exercise in a hydrated state, then drink during exercise to maintain hydration.
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