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Doctors explain if sugar-free electrolyte drinks are worth the hype

Are sugar-free electrolyte drinks good for you? Here's how to tell

Electrolyte drinks have been all the rage for years, especially as they’ve been marketed by our favorite athletes who say they help them refuel after a tough workout and replenish their bodies to maintain their constant conditioning. Commonly known as sports drinks, these options often contain calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium, which can help prevent dehydration, ward off the feeling of fatigue, and even help avoid muscle cramping that can come from dehydration. But many also come with added ingredients that aren’t necessarily the healthiest.

There are many sports drinks that boast no artificial ingredients, no sugar, no calories, and no carbs, and this is important. But a drink can be “sugar-free” and still have other ingredients that are bad for you.

We’ve done the research so you know what to look for in electrolyte drinks without sugar.

Runner seated on the steps drinking a sports drink

Sugar-free, artificial sweetener free

In ENDO 2018, researchers presented new data showing “sucralose, a popular artificial sweetener, promotes metabolic dysregulation… low-calorie sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction similar to that of regular sugar, despite the lack of calories.” This means artificial sweeteners can cause as much damage to your body as sugar. When you’re looking for products, make sure to read the labels.

Anything that artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavorings like dextrose and sucralose should be avoided. These are in certain electrolyte drinks like Powerade Zero and Gatorade. Experts say that the healthiest sports drink are ones made with all-natural, real ingredients. This helps keep calories down while also helping with bloating and gas.

Athletes taking a break after training drinking colorful energy drink or sports drinks

The best sugar-free electrolytes drinks

HYDRATE is one example (though it has one gram of sugar) that is only made with six ingredients. Olympic athlete Kris Buchanan created and you can stir it into water to help with dehydration. Coconut water is another good option. This tasty drink is low in sugar and has electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It’s also low in calories and is a favorite among many athletes.

You can also buy electrolyte tablets like Nuun that you simply mix with water and drink. Most electrolyte tablets contain a mixture of calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium, so just do your homework because they vary in amount and should be based on your individual needs. You can buy Nuun on Amazon for less than $25 for 40 tablets. They come in four flavors.

GOODONYA HYDRATE • ELECTROLYTE + MINERAL Powder

Do you need an electrolyte drink?

Experts say if you’re performing continuous, vigorous physical activity like running, biking, or swimming for an hour or more, you could benefit from a drink with electrolytes. If you’re sick with the flu and suffering from vomiting or diarrhea over an extended period of time, it may also be worthwhile to look into one.

Finally, if you’re wondering whether you’re dehydrated and may be in need of electrolytes, say after a hot yoga class, there are some things to watch out for that may be signs of dehydration. These include dry mouth, excessive thirst, lethargy, muscle weakness or fatigue, dark urine, or dizziness. If you find those happen regularly, you’ll want to consult with your primary care physician to see if there are other causes.

According to Healthline, electrolytes are “minerals that help your body carry out a variety of vital functions, such as hydration, muscle contractions, pH balance, and nerve signaling.” They also said, for most, “a balanced diet and adequate water intake is enough to maintain electrolyte levels.” Still, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above or need to replenish yourself during an extended workout session, the options above are all good.

“When choosing a sports drink for a super sweaty workout—or over an hour of exercise—I recommend looking for a beverage with at least 300 milligrams of potassium and at least 80 milligrams of sodium,” Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN told Very Well Fit, “A beverage like coconut water — with minimal added flavors and colors — is my favorite.” For personal preference, you may need to play around with a variety of the above to find a type and flavor you like and see how your body responds after a sweat session to decide if you want to invest long-term.

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