Do You Really Need Liquid IV? Here’s When Electrolytes Are—and Aren’t—Useful

Fact checked by Nick BlackmerFact checked by Nick Blackmer

Key Takeaways

  • Electrolyte beverages are only useful in rare circumstances for most people.

  • They may be helpful if you’re experiencing dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea.

  • But unless you work out for at least two hours—or spend many hours sweating in the sun—these products likely won’t provide any benefit to you, experts said.

Electrolyte beverage companies often market their products toward anyone who works out, but not everyone in this category will reap the benefits of these drinks, according to experts.

Electrolyte products now come in many different forms. Some—like Gatorade, Powerade, Pedialyte, and various brands of coconut water—come in liquid form. The brand Liquid I.V. makes packets that you can add to water or another beverage, and Nuun makes tablets that you can use similarly. Electrolyte products are often advertised as capable of helping you stay hydrated.

But unless you’re working out for many hours or spending much of the day in direct sunlight, they may be a waste of money.

“Most people do not need them all the time,” Leah Barron, RD, LD, CPT, a dietitian at The Baseline Lifestyle Co., told Verywell. “If you tend to spend most of your days inside, not sweating much, then you are likely getting all the electrolytes and hydration you need from your daily food and water intake.”

Related: Do Electrolytes Give You Energy?

What Are Electrolytes?

“The main electrolytes in the body are sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate,” Barron said. Our cardiovascular and nervous systems rely on our electrolytes, she added: “Each electrolyte has somewhat different roles, but overall, the job of the electrolytes is to maintain electrical neutrality and create the action potentials in nerves and muscles that allow our brain to send messages throughout the body.”

When our electrolytes are out of balance—in addition to not being properly hydrated—multiple bodily systems cannot function correctly, Barron said.

Imbalances can occur when we’re too hydrated and when we’re dehydrated. “Dehydration and overhydration are both determined by the concentration of electrolytes in the blood,” Barron said. “There are healthy ranges for each electrolyte in which we know that the body will be functioning appropriately; it’s when the electrolyte concentrations venture outside those normal ranges that we can run into issues.” Mild symptoms may include muscle cramps and headache, while more severe consequences can include disturbances to your heart rhythm or even death, Barron said.

Your urine can help you strike the right balance, Carlos Rios, MD, medical director of Mount Sinai Doctors Primary Care, told Verywell. “The urine should not be too dark; if it is, you are likely dehydrated and should drink more fluid,” he said. “If the urine is clear like water, you probably overdid it.”

Related: Should I Use Gatorade or Pedialyte?

Who Needs Electrolyte Beverages?

Electrolyte beverages can be beneficial for people who sweat a lot since sweating reduces our electrolyte levels. “I generally recommend electrolyte beverages to people who are going to be exercising strenuously for more than two hours or if they are going to be outside in excessive heat,” Barron said.

During the summer, you may run into multiple circumstances in which you could benefit from an electrolyte beverage. “If you happen to be outside in the summer doing yard work for a few hours, go for a hike in the midday heat, or [are] at the beach all day, then it could be helpful,” Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, a dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition, told Verywell.

Electrolyte beverages may help people experiencing dehydration from causes other than excessive heat, too. “Outside of strenuous exercise, other times when electrolyte beverages can be helpful are when dehydration occurs due to illness, including excessive vomiting or diarrhea,” Barron said.

Additionally, electrolyte beverages can be helpful for people with certain other health conditions, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)—a medical condition affecting heart rate—Patton said. People with this condition may require additional sodium to prevent disease-related symptoms.

Can You Add Salt to Water for Electrolytes?

If you experience dehydration due to strenuous outdoor exercise, it’s worth buying an electrolyte beverage rather than just adding salt to water or another beverage. “Most electrolyte beverages contain more than just sodium and chloride, so if you truly need electrolyte supplementation, it is going to be better to go for an electrolyte beverage,” Barron said.

Who Should Avoid Electrolyte Beverages?

Some electrolyte beverages have downsides, Rios said. “Many of these beverages have a lot of sugar,” so they pose certain risks to people with diabetes, he said. “The increase in sugar may…cause worsening dehydration.”

People with high blood pressure should avoid electrolyte beverages since they should be on a low-sodium diet, and people with kidney problems, like chronic kidney disease, shouldn’t drink electrolyte beverages because their kidneys cannot efficiently filter out electrolytes, Patton added.

If you have chronic health issues, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider before trying electrolyte products of any kind. “It will be helpful to bring the label [of the drink you want to try] as they all have a variety of elements, even within the same company,” Rios said.

Generally speaking, electrolyte products aren’t great for children, Katrina Hartog, MPH, RD, CDN, director of Clinical Nutrition at Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West, told Verywell. “Providing electrolyte beverages to kids is not necessary nor recommended, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics,” she said. If your child is experiencing dehydration due to illness or having spent many hours sweating, electrolyte drinks might be useful, but they’re not intended for daily use, due, in part, to the risk of excessive sugar intake.

The bottom line, experts said, is that electrolyte beverages can be helpful but are, for the most part, unnecessary for most people. “It is better for the general population to hydrate with water, tea, milk, or 100% fruit juice,” Patton said. “If you like flavored water, add a squeeze of fresh citrus fruit or add a splash of 100% fruit juice.”

What This Means For You

Electrolyte beverages—like Gatorade, Pedialyte, and certain brands of coconut water—are often advertised to anyone who consistently works out. But the instances in which most people can benefit from these beverages are few and far between, experts said. Unless you’re spending multiple hours in the sun, working out, or both, they may be a waste of money.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.

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