The popularity of electrolytes started more than 40 years ago as a way to properly hydrate athletes who were exercising in the Florida heat and losing nutrients by sweating profusely. Trainers found that by adding carbohydrates, salt and key minerals to their water, the players were able to perform better and were less likely to be stricken with heat stroke. Over the years water additives have become more sophisticated and skyrocketed in popularity and are now available in hundreds of different flavors, forms and price ranges.
But it’s not just athletes that can benefit from adding electrolytes to their water! Electrolyte replenishment can be especially helpful if you engage in extended workouts, are a heavy sweater, travel on a plane, spend a lot of time outside in the heat, are sick with a fever or are in need of a hangover cure. In any of these conditions, your need for fluids and electrolytes may exceed what a balanced diet can provide. In addition, if flavored electrolyte powders can help you to drink more water overall and even eliminate sugary beverages from your diet, they can have some real nutritional benefits.
The registered dietitians in the Good Housekeeping Institute's Nutrition Lab have evaluated dozens of electrolyte powders and consulted with Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, CSSN, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, to bring you our top choices for 2022 with consideration for taste, ingredients and value.
Our top picks:
1Best Overall Electrolyte TabletsSport Electrolyte Drink Tablets Nuun Read More
2Best Budget Electrolyte PowderElectrolyte Recovery Plus KEY NUTRIENTS Read More
3Best Stevia-Free Electrolyte PowderORS Hydration Electrolyte Powder Packets DripDrop Read More
4Best On-the-Go Electrolyte TabletsEffer-Hydrate Electrolyte Tablets NOW Read More
5Best Electrolyte Powder for Intense WorkoutsHydration Multiplier Electrolyte Drink Mix Liquid I.V. Read More
Stick around after our top picks to learn more about how to best incorporate electrolyte drinks into your workout routine, plus more information about how to pick the best electrolyte powder for you.
Our registered dietitians evaluated dozens of electrolyte powders, analyzing nutrition facts, flavor profiles, certifications and third-party testing data. We looked for options that contained no artificial ingredients, preservatives, flavors or coloring and while sodium needs vary greatly, it can be an important component in electrolyte powders so we looked for a range of options to suit every need and activity level.
Electrolyte powders are considered a dietary supplement and are not reviewed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is why we only reviewed companies that were verified by a third-party lab, such as NSF, USP and ConsumerLab, to ensure labeling accuracy. Take note that third-party testing does not consider medical interactions which is why it's always best to consult with your healthcare provider before adding any supplement into your diet.
Electrolytes powders are available in tabs and loose powder form. They are a combination of minerals that among other things, help move water into cells for better hydration. They can also be found in our food and fluids. Certain conditions can lead us to become dehydrated faster, such as air travel, hot or dry conditions, having a cold or flu, intense exercise, being a heavy sweater and alcohol consumption. The combination of electrolytes found in these powders may help to re-hydrate us faster than by drinking a glass of water alone which likely only has trace amounts of electrolytes.
According to expert Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, CSSN, “Electrolytes maintain fluid balance, muscle contractions and healthy nerve signals. We lose electrolytes in sweat, particularly sodium, but also chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in smaller amounts," she adds. "We don’t normally 'need' electrolyte powder since we can get these minerals from food, but electrolyte powders make it quick and easy to replenish our electrolyte levels."
Generally, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends people drink 9 to 13 cups of water per day in addition to the fluid they consume through food and other beverages.
When it comes to using electrolytes for exercise, you can consume electrolyte-enhanced water before, during or after your activity. If adding a tasty supplement to your water helps you to drink and absorb more water then... mission accomplished!
Blatner explains the best ways to use electrolytes during all phases of your workout.
✔️ Before: Plain water is a great hydrator, but adding electrolytes may be a good idea before exercise if you know you are already dehydrated, according to Blatner. One general way to assess hydration before a workout is by looking at urine color. If it’s on the darker side, you are likely dehydrated and can add electrolytes before the workout to help you start off with a better hydration level. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), consider consuming 17-20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise.
✔️ During: Consider using electrolytes during a workout if your workout is over 45-60 minutes, the weather or room is very hot or humid or you know you are a “salty sweater” (your hat and workout clothes likely have salt stains on them). Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10-20 minutes during exercise, according to ACE.
✔️ After: Electrolytes are likely most important after exercise, when you may need more rapid rehydration. It's important to take into account how long and at what intensity you've worked out at. So many people forget to drink enough water during a workout, and you can monitor your hydration status by weighing yourself before and after workouts. You should not lose any weight after a workout. If you do, it’s a sign you aren’t drinking enough! ACE recommends consuming 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
Electrolyte powders and tablets are not all created the same. According to Blatner, "The two big differences are sugar and level of electrolytes — particularly sodium." Keep in mind that we all come in different shapes and sizes and our needs are not identical. Sodium needs especially can vary from person to person. The American Heart Association recommends, no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day with an ideal limit of less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults especially those with high blood pressure. Read labels and choose the best electrolyte powder for your individual needs, climate and activity level. One packet or tablet of electrolyte powder, per day, is likely sufficient for most adults.
Blatner recommends the following tips on how to choose the best electrolytes for your needs:
✔️ Added sugar. Most people don’t need added sugar in their electrolyte powder, however, it is an excellent addition if it’s being used during endurance events like long-distance runs. When you exercise your muscles you use glucose for energy and your muscles use more than while at rest. Therefore, if you're working out for prolonged periods or at a higher intensity you're likely burning through those stores at a faster pace and the glucose in electrolyte powders may be useful at that time.
✔️ Sodium levels. Sodium is the electrolyte we lose the most in sweat. Sodium amounts in electrolyte drinks can vary greatly from 2% to 40% of your daily value. Getting between 10 and 20% of your daily value in electrolyte powders is usually right for most people. If you are watching your sodium for blood pressure reasons, be sure to account for the amount in your electrolyte drink.
✔️ Additives. Pay attention to additives that you may or may not personally want, such as caffeine, which is meant to be used before a workout as an energy enhancer. Blatner also cautions that powders may contain extra vitamins and minerals beyond electrolytes, such as added B-vitamins for energy or vitamin C and zinc for immunity, which you may not need.
Amy Fischer, MS, RD, CDN, has a B.A. in journalism from Miami University of Ohio and an M.S. in clinical nutrition from New York University. Prior to working at Good Housekeeping, she worked at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City as a cardiac transplant dietitian. She has authored numerous chapters in clinical nutrition textbooks and has also worked in PR and marketing for food company start-ups.