Ultimate Guide to Hydration – Part 2

The Why, How, & When of Electrolyte Replenishment

Many recreational/semi-professional athletes are still using Powerade as their Sports drink of choice.  Let’s be honest it does taste good. But are you aware there is a more tailored sports drink to replenish your electrolytes without the crazy amount of calories?  I personally have never been a fan of Powerade or Gatorade due to the pure strong sugary taste but I know many people are big fans due to the taste, energy boost and the electrolyte content.


Why do we need electrolytes in our hydration process?

When you sweat from high intensity exercise you lose electrolytes from your body so purely hydrating with water will no longer be enough. These vitamins and minerals are really important to make your body run smoothly and are crucial in preventing dehydration and its effects on performance and recovery.

As I discuss in my first hydration blog only 2% loss of body weight fluid is enough to affect performance in sport. It can bring on early fatigue, cramps, soreness and impaired concentration.

The principal electrolytes lost through sweat that are important are sodium, potassium and chloride. Sodium drives the fluid update and retention and potassium is essential for nerve and muscle function. Chloride is important in helping the body retain fluid so in other words staying hydrated. During the recovery phase after sport the replacement of electrolytes when rehydrating is crucial as rehydrating with just water can lower blood sodium levels which causes a reduced thirst and increased urine output. This will ultimately lead to decreased voluntary fluid intake and lack of fluid retention.

The topic of cramp prevention tends to have a lot of myths relating around prevention with no proven theory as to what causes them.  They may be caused from fatigue with the muscles not being accustomed to the volume or intensity of exercise. So in other words there is a lack of strength and the shock of asking the muscles to do more work than normal sends them into overdrive. There is some evidence, though controversial, that body sodium (salt) depletion could be involved in causing cramps in some athletes.  So it is possible that using an electrolyte solution could also be beneficial in preventing cramps.


So what is the best way to replenish your electrolytes?

My preference is definitely the new solution Hydralyte which is being used by many of our elite athletes.  It is a powder that you combine with water that can be used before, during or after exercise.  Developed by leading Australian hydration experts Hydralyte Sports is scientifically formulated to have the correct balance of glucose (sugar) and electrolytes as well as six additional trace elements including magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese.

It is not a sugary drink loaded with carbohydrates but it gives you enough glucose and energy boost when you need one and keeps you perfectly hydrated to help get through the game.

The flavours include orange and lemon and lime but there is definitely no comparison in taste with Powerade if you do like that sugary taste.  In fact to be honest, it doesn’t taste nice at all as it is almost a bit salty. However, once you start to sweat your body is craving this rehydration and you don’t tend to notice the salty taste in your taste buds anymore.

I found it worked really well as a half time boost up in my netball games. I would hydrate with just water before a game and when I felt I needed an energy boost I would use my second drink bottle filled with hydralyte.  My team no longer uses lollies on the bench due to the evidence that a high blood glucose spike has a subsequent energy drop but I found that the hydralyte drink worked perfectly instead. It gave me exactly what I needed to get through the rest of the game but without the extra calories or high blood sugar spike.

In comparison to Powerade according to the Hydralyte website the time to run off the calories associated with Hydralyte versus Powerade is 4 minutes versus 22 minutes.

  • Hydralyte = 178kj
  • Powerade = 775kj

With my physio work with Netball at Nationals this year we used Hydralyte as the principal hydration drink for the players encouraging them to use it instead of Powerade during the game as well as drinking it afterwards.  I have also found anecdotally after speaking to quite a few Aussie Rules footballers that they have found using Hydralyte has helped in preventing cramps.  If however, you are a big fan of Powerade I would encourage you to reduce the calorie amount by adding water to weaken the solution.

Hydralye is also perfect for staying hydrated when competing in hot weather conditions. The Aussie summer can really be gruelling and I found personally a few times over this last summer that Hydralyte was the perfect drink whilst playing tennis in this heat.  When you are sweating that much in the heat you almost crave this salty replenishing taste and the perfectly calculated hydration allows you to keep performing to the best of your ability.

When else is a good time to replenish your electrolytes?

Hydralyte also has other good rehydration uses including being a perfect drink for when you are sick with Diarrhoea, Gastro bug or general cold which tend to dehydrate your body.  The company also recommends its use for dehydration associated with “hangover’s” from alcohol and fatigue associated with jetlag from the dry humid conditions of long haul flights.




About the author

Julia Allan
Julia Allan

I'm a physiotherapist working majority in the sports field. I'm based in Melbourne working with a variety of different athletes which is currently predominantly with the Victorian Under 19 netball side and the Victorian Fury netball side through Eltham Physio Centre. I also play high level netball myself in the State League competition (VNL) here in Melbourne and I want to share my knowledge to help all athletes prevent injury and improve performance.

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