Refueling electrolytes without sports drinks

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Summertime means endless outdoor activities for kids and adults. When it comes to replacing electrolytes after a hard days work, sports drink makers have the market cornered.

“The commercials make you think that you have to drink Gatorade or Powerade to replace those,” says IU Health Family medicine physician, Scott Renshaw, MD.

Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge, according to the National Institutes of Health. The most common electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium.

Electrolytes affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood (pH), and your muscle function among other things.

“I call electrolytes the salts in our body — everything that our body needs to make our muscles and our heart beat and our brain work and our kidneys function; we have to have all those things to make all the stuff work,” says Renshaw. “So when you sweat, you lose some of that and then you need to replace that.”

Drinking a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade may be fast, but refueling electrolytes through real food is also effective. According to research published by the American College of Sports Medicine, sports drinks are a good way of replacing electrolyte losses, but often don’t contain the recommended electrolyte concentrations.

“Real food, like fruits, can be used to fuel a workout,” reads the study findings. “Dried and fresh fruits supply a shot of carbohydrates that are well-digested.”

Comparing the nutrition facts of Gatorade to dried fruit reveals exactly what the ACSM points out in the research above. In Gatorade’s popular G2 Orange beverage, there is 115mg of sodium and the 30mg of potassium. A small box SunMaid raisins, by comparison, have 5mg of Sodium and 220mg of Potassium.

Most people in the U.S. get more sodium in their diets than they need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Doctors recommend you eat less than 2.4 grams per day. That equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt a day.

“You could just eat normal healthy foods and you’ll replace the potassium, magnesium, just fine as well — with a lot more bang for the buck actually,” says Renshaw.

Cost increases exponentially when purchasing Gatorade’s popular “G2″ series of low-calorie sports drinks. The price per bottle is still more than $1 when bought in bulk. The same small box of raisins used above costs about $0.20 per serving.

So while water is the absolute cornerstone of hydration, replacing electrolytes is as simple as having fresh or dried produce in the diet.

Here is a list of common foods that come in highest in potassium, according to the Agriculture Research Service (ARS), a division of the USDA:

  • Sweet potato (1, baked)
  • Plain non-fat Yogurt, (8 oz)
  • Prune juice (3/4 cup)
  • Banana (medium sized)
  • Cantaloupe (1 cup)
  • Tomato juice(3/4 cup)
  • Orange pieces (1 cup)
  • Baby Carrots (10 carrots)
  • Raisins (1/4 cup)
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