The earliest recipe for what ultimately became a best-selling sports drink was a simple brew of sugar, lemon, salt and water. That humble origin begs the obvious question: Can you save money and avoid artificial ingredients by making your own natural electrolyte replacement drink?
Why Do You Need Electrolytes?
If your body becomes low in electrolytes, such as sodium or potassium, your cells lose the "voltage" necessary to convey the messages your body uses for maintaining vital functions. Electrolyte loss is most apt to happen through dehydration, often as a result of sweating, vomiting or experiencing diarrhea.
Muscle cramping is one of the first signs of electrolyte imbalance, according to the Cleveland Clinic. More serious symptoms can also occur with an electrolyte deficiency, such as low sodium. These symptoms include extreme fatigue, seizures and coma.
It's also important to recognize that electrolyte imbalances can occur even if you're not working out, suffering through hot weather or feeling sick. There's also a risk of fluid loss and accompanying electrolyte imbalance when you're taking medications such as diuretics or heart medicine.
That's one reason why "sports drinks" are something of a misnomer. Working out is certainly one way in which body fluids can be lost, especially when exercising on a hot day. But a fever can also cause intense sweating.
Any illness or injury that leads to prolonged vomiting or diarrhea may also lead to an electrolyte imbalance. A commercial or homemade electrolyte solution helps replace those crucial electrolytes that were flushed from your system when you lost those fluids.
Why seek a natural electrolyte replacement? One obvious reason is the cost of sports drinks, along with their artificial flavors and colors. Another motivation to keep ingredients for homemade electrolyte solution on hand is to handle emergency situations, especially when sick kids are involved.
"Pedia" electrolyte drinks and ice pops are certainly readily available, and caring for your little patient often makes it difficult to break away to purchase drug store products. The same, of course, is true for any adult suffering from intense diarrhea, muscle cramps after an intense run or even a hangover.
Choosing Water or Electrolyte Drinks
Whether water or a natural electrolyte replacement drink is better for you and how much liquid to take in will both likely depend on why you need hydration. According to the Mayo Clinic, electrolyte drinks aren't automatically required by people who are working out, but can be helpful.
Having too much water during and after exercise poses its own risks, including hyponatremia, or low sodium. Yet taking in too little water or electrolyte drinks can also lead to dehydration. The Mayo Clinic suggests drinking when you feel thirsty and planning for about half plain water and half electrolyte drink.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics further notes that if you see a white residue on the skin — which might also flake onto clothing, where it's more noticeable — an electrolyte drink becomes a better choice than water. That's because the residue is a sign of significant sodium loss.
As a rule of thumb, especially for kids and teens, who may not be used to knowing when to rest and hydrate, it's important to encourage electrolyte drinks if a vigorous game, practice or running around time exceeds one hour. Being active in hot weather can also increase the need to switch from water to an electrolyte drink.
Making a Basic Concentrate
One of the most time-effective ways to ensure ready access to a natural electrolyte solution is to make a homemade concentrate. This way, you can add small amounts of this blended concentrate to plain water, as needed, rather than gathering and blending all the ingredients each time you're prepping for a workout.
Most blends usually contain a combination of sodium, sugar and citrus. If you include both baking soda and iodized salt, you can replace different forms of sodium that tend to be lost through perspiration. Lemon juice provides both potassium and magnesium, which the Cleveland Clinic lists, along with sodium, as crucial electrolytes.
Start by juicing at least a half-dozen lemons, rather than using artificial lemon juice. Add about half as much maple syrup or honey before blending in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. The combination of ingredients is likely to fizz, but stirring will settle the bubbles. Keep this concentrate in the fridge in a tightly capped jar.
If you have a crowd, all of the concentrate can go right into 1 gallon of plain water. Otherwise, mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of the concentrate into each 8-ounce serving of water and stir vigorously.
Create a Fruity Electrolyte Recipe
Using a recipe based on fruit juice in your homemade electrolyte solution is a quick way to provide some of the fluid, as well as the sugar content needed, so that all you have to add is water and iodized salt. Mix roughly equal parts water and the fruit juice of your choice to make about 1 liter. Add up to 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt, stir vigorously and chill. This will provide four servings — enough to see you through a couple of workouts or to help during an illness.
The fruit juice you choose is largely a matter of taste, but look for 100 percent juice whenever possible. These types of juice products deliver the electrolyte content you do need, while avoiding the artificial ingredients you don't need.
Potential juice combinations to use in the electrolyte recipe include all grape juice; part apple juice plus part grape or black cherry juice; orange juice plus fresh-squeezed lemon juice; pineapple juice plus fresh-squeezed lemon juice; and tart cherry plus fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
When using less-sweet juices, like orange or tart cherry juice, include about 1/4 cup of sugar. Use either bottled water or tap water that's been boiled, then cooled.
Finding Additional Strategies
Your natural electrolyte replacement drink doesn't have to look like a clone of a commercial sports drink to be successful. Try the University of Virginia Health System's variations on homemade electrolyte blends if you just can't face one more glass of the salty-sugary drink, whether homemade or a sports drink product.
When you're craving something warm to soothe your chills and fever, for example, consider a broth-based drink. Combine equal parts chicken or beef broth and water; then blend in a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. Alternatively, heat several cups of water with a bouillon cube, some sugar and a pinch of salt. Remember that this is not the time to seek out low-sodium liquid broth or bouillon cubes.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Trade Sports Drinks for Water?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Dehydration"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyponatremia"
- Cleveland Cinic: "Electrolytes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Drink to Thirst"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Hydration for the Child Athlete"
- Anne Arundel Medical Center: "Homemade Sports Drinks"
- USDA: "Lemon Juice, Raw"
- University of Arizona Health Center: "Make Your Own Sport Drink"
- University of Virginia Health System: "Homemade Oral Rehydration Solutions"
- USDA: "Tomato Juice, Canned"