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Are Electrolyte Packets Really Worth the Hype?

If you’re supplementing electrolytes with sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade, you probably don’t need to worry about taking in too much, since sports drinks tend to have fewer electrolytes than electrolyte powders or packets, says Dr. Pryor. “On the other hand, if you are making your own drink, or if you add additional electrolytes to a pre-made drink, this could become a problem if you go overboard. Stick to a similar concentration as what is suggested by the beverage company,” says Dr. Pryor.

How should you use electrolyte packets?

You can drink electrolyte packets with water before, during, and/or after your workout to help you stay hydrated and ensure you’re adequately replacing lost sodium. General sports nutrition recommendations are to take in anywhere from 300 to 600 milligrams of sodium per hour of exercise, Samuel says. But salty sweaters can stand to take in even a little more—upward of 1,200 milligrams of sodium per hour.

General exercisers who aren’t going above the 30-minute mark and occasionally just want a little bit of flavor in their drink may be better off sticking with sports drinks (as long as they’re not looking to avoid added sugar) rather than specific electrolyte packets. “Gatorade Thirst Quencher is going to have about 160 milligrams of sodium in it per 12-ounce serving, whereas packets like Liquid IV and LMNT have 500 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium per serving,” says Samuel. So these packets are really more suited toward people who are in an electrolyte deficit, especially a sodium one. Based on the above calculations, this would mean that a person could drink 1 packet of Liquid IV plus 16 ounces of water and be adequately hydrated for an hour workout.

Because hydration is a combination of fluid and electrolytes, it’s also important to make sure you’re taking in enough water. One way you can calculate how much fluid you actually need to replenish is to weigh yourself before and after your workout. The difference is the amount of water you lost, Dr. Pryor says. If you lost weight during your workout, you should aim to consume 100 to 150% of any lost fluid. And of course, you should avoid this method entirely if weighing yourself is in any way triggering. (Learn more about how to rehydrate after a tough workout.)

What about all the other benefits electrolyte packets tout?

Okay, so we’ve established that electrolytes can help with rehydration after long or intense exercise. But like we mentioned above, rehydration isn’t the only benefit included in the marketing of many electrolyte products. Many also tout better performance, less fatigue, and immune support. Do these packets really help all that as well?

Well, it’s complicated, and not exactly clear-cut. As we mentioned, many electrolyte packets, powders, and drinks contain ingredients apart from just electrolytes, like carbs or sugar, caffeine, and vitamin C. So it’s difficult to tease out which ingredient is responsible for which effect. 

Other research, though, has supported the benefits of specific ingredients, like vitamins, carbs, or caffeine, to an extent. For instance, taking in carbs during endurance exercise has been found to increase the time you’re able to exercise and the amount of work you can do during that time. Similarly, according to a 2021 position stand in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, caffeine improves muscle endurance, speed, and strength, as well as decreases fatigue. And when caffeine and carbs are combined, it produces an even better increase in endurance performance than carbs alone, according to the same position piece. As for immunity? While vitamin C—a common ingredient in electrolyte packets advertising immune support—does play a role in immune function, its benefits for fighting colds may be over-hyped: Research has been inconsistent, and overall evidence suggests that regularly taking in 200 mg or more per day doesn’t reduce colds in the general population, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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