Refuel, recharge: Spotlight on electrolytes (Part 2)

So, either you are already a fan of using electrolytes as part of your training routine, or you are suitably convinced from Part 1 to give them a try. In this post I hope to give you a few pointers as to what to think about, as well as a few reviews based on my personal experiences.

First things first: an electrolyte supplement is not a replacement for adequate water intake, simply a bonus to make sure you are getting the right nutrients in, but also for some people it may simply be about having a more palatable drink which encourages them to drink during exercise. Many recommendations suggest drinking about 250ml of water for every 15mins of exercise – or 1 litre per hour. I can’t imagine how this would be feasible in most sports (I certainly wouldn’t want to carry that much liquid with me on a run, either in a bottle or in my body!), but you should make sure you are taking small sips of water whenever you can. In sports where taking on large volumes of water isn’t possible, it is particularly important to drink sufficiently in the 2-3 hours leading up to exercise, and then to consider an electrolyte supplement in the water that you are able to consume during exercise.

To buy or not to buy?

Things you want to factor in:

  1. Carbs: do you want added carbohydrates in your drink and if so, what form of sugar (glucose, fructose, maltodextrine)?
  2. Caffeine: some supplements are caffeinated – does caffeine agree with you? What time will you be training (you may not want a caffeinated supplement if you train late in the day)? What dosage would you require?
  3. Format: what is most practical for you, your sport, and your routine? A big tub of powder which you scoop your servings out of and into a bottle? Individual sachets? A tube of tablets?
  4. Price: make sure you look at the price per serving – and what the recommended dosage and serving size are. It’s great if you can get 20 tablets for the price of 10, but if the 10 tablets make up 10 litres and the 20 tablets make up 5 litres, you’ve lost out. Read the recommended dosage, work out how many litres of drink you get per serving, and multiply that by the number of servings in your package, and you get the total number of litres your product provides. Divide the price by the number of litres, and you have a price per litre – easier for comparison purposes.
  5. Taste: this one barely factors in for me, as when I’m training and thirsty I will drink anything. But for most people, it will matter perhaps more than price! So if you can get samples, do – remember that if you enjoy drinking it, you are more likely to stay adequately hydrated. In general, citrus flavours are more reliable and predictable than berry flavours or other fruits.

Where to begin?

Nuun:

    • 12 tabs in a tube – yields 6 litres
    • no sugar, no caffeine
    • 360mg sodium, 100mg potassium, 12.5mg calcium carbonate, 25mg magnesium sulfate (per tab)
    • £6, £1/litre (cheaper for multipacks)
    • personal review: wide range of flavours, all pretty tasty, no saltiness, refreshing and not overly sweet, dissolves quickly and fully

Nectar Hydro

    • 20 tabs in a tube – yields 10-15 litres
    • a small amount of maltodextrine, no caffeine
    • 250mg sodium, 60mg potassium, 40mg calcium, 20mg magnesium, 265mg chloride (per tab)
    • £6.99, £0.47-£0.70/litre (cheaper prices available)
    • personal review: at the time of writing this, I have only tried the orange flavour, but my initial impression is that it far surpasses the taste of anything else I have tried. At a highly competitive price, it dissolves quickly even in cold water, without leaving any residue, and doesn’t have even a hint of chalkiness or saltiness to the taste. The downside is that it doesn’t provide quite as high a count of electrolytes as some of the others

Science in Sport Go Hydro:

    • 20 tabs in a tube – yields 10 litres
    • a small amount of maltodextrine, no caffeine
    • 300mg sodium, 65mg potassium, 102mg calcium, 8.1mg magnesium, 1.3mg zinc (per tab)
    • £6.99, £0.70/litre (offers and multipacks available)
    • personal review: more watery flavours and a hint of saltiness, leaves a little residue when dissolved, I wouldn’t be able to drink these when I’m not training but actually really enjoy them when thirsty as they are not overpoweringly sweet or flavourful

High5 Zero

    • 20 tabs in a tube – yields 15 litres
    • no sugar, no caffeine but does contain green tea extract
    • 250mg sodium, 90mg potassium, 80mg calcium, 32mg magnesium (per tab)
    • £6.99, £0.47/litre
    • personal review: quite weak and slightly bitter flavours, but I came to appreciate that as a sign that it was time to train – wouldn’t recommend this for a first taste, but as the cheapest option I would definitely use these again. Note that they do an unflavoured (“neutral”) version too, which could be very interesting depending on your needs and preferences

High5 Zero X’treme

    • 20 tabs in a tube – yields 10 litres
    • no sugar, 65mg caffeine (about the same amount as a medium-strength restaurant-style espresso coffee, or a strong black tea), green tea extract
    • 250mg sodium, 90mg potassium, 80mg calcium, 32mg magnesium, 65mg caffeine (per tab)
    • £6.99, £0.70/litre
    • personal review: the taste was similar to the standard High5 Zero, but I found the caffeine really gave me a boost that I would find worth paying more for – I would keep a tube of each in my gym bag, and save the caffeine ones for sessions I knew would require a kick towards the end, such as heavy sparring sessions
    • note: 200-300mg per day is considered a standard intake of caffeine, guidelines for maximum caffeine consumption are about 500mg per day (teenagers are advised to limit their consumption to no more than 100mg per day, and pregnant women to no more than 200mg daily)

This is just a small selection of the products out there, and I haven’t included any that contain added carbohydrates as that is a whole new game with even more things to take into account. Hopefully, though, this will give you some helpful guidelines as to what to look out for, and a baseline comparison.

Personally, if it is your first time using electrolytes, I would splash out a little and go with Nuun as they are by all accounts the best-tasting, with the widest range of flavours. (I have had no contact with Nuun about this article, and they have provided me with no incentives to give them favourable reviews – the opinions here are purely my own)

I don’t find that using electrolytes gives me a huge boost or anything overly noticeable, but when I don’t use them I do find I have a little more trouble concentrating and staying focussed during longer, warmer, sweatier sessions. Let me and other readers know how you get on with them, and what your favourites are. Happy experimenting!

Selected sources for Parts 1 and 2
Alison Hamlet, Anita Bean, “RW’s Complete Guide to Hydration“, Runner’s World, February 2005
Edward F. Coyle, “Fluid and Fuel Intake During Exercise“, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2004, 22, 39–55 (The Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, The University of Texas)
Australian Institute of Sport, “Electrolyte Replacement Supplements“, Fuelling your Success, AIS Sport Supplement Programme, November 2011
Robert Glatter, “The Truth Behind the Coconut Water Craze“, Forbes, August 2012
Michael R. Simpson, Tom Howard, “Selecting and Effectively Using Hydration for Fitness“, ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), 2011
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