I sweat excessively when I exercise. I’ve learned from experience that I get leg cramps after a workout and/or at night if I don’t replace the electrolytes I lose through excessive sweating. If my diet doesn’t include enough calcium and magnesium, that seems to affect cramping too, but I can’t prove it. One doesn’t lose much calcium or magnesium through sweat, just a little; but those two electrolytes are just as important as the main electrolytes: sodium, chloride, and potassium, which are lost in significant amounts through sweat.
The human body generally does a good job of regulating salt (sodium and chloride) and potassium. If you take in too much salt, your body can retain water to keep the concentration just right, and/or your kidneys can work extra to excrete the excess salt.
But if you do not consume enough salt to compensate for what you eliminate and sweat off, your body tries to shed water to keep the concentration just right, and you can get dehydrated. So for the athlete, or a regular exerciser, getting enough salt can be a challenge if you do not already eat a typically high-salt American diet.
Warning: If you are on a calorie-restricted, or glucose-restricted, or sugar-restricted, or salt-restricted or potassium-restricted diet, check with your physician about using electrolyte drinks.
Regular Gatorade, also known as G Series 02 Perform, that which is readily available in stores, has the following nutrition, per 8 fl ounces:
(Source: see label, or http://www.gatorade.com/default.aspx#gseries?s=gatorade-g )
Sodium: 110 mg.
Potassium: 30 mg.
Professional strength Gatorade, also known as G Series Pro 02 Perform, has the following nutrition, per 8 fl ounces.
(Source: see label, or http://www.gatorade.com/#gseriespro?s=gseriespro-perform-enduranceformula-readytodrink )
Sodium: 200 mg.
Potassium: 90 mg.
Vitalyte (formerly Gookinaid, formerly ERG), per 8 fluid ounces.
(Source: http://www.vitalyte.com/catalog/product/gallery/id/13/image/20/ )
Sodium: 68 mg.
Potassium: 92 mg.
Here is how I make my own electolyte drink or replacement for Gatorade:
To 2 quarts of water (8 servings of 8 fluid ounces), I add:
1. 1 packet of unsweetened drink mix, Kool-Aid or similar brand or generic. This costs $.08 to $.20 per packet.
2. 10 tablespoons of powdered dextrose (5/8 cup), also known as corn sugar. This is the same as glucose. This supplies 360 calories, or 45 calories per serving of 8 fluid ounces. Available at beer-making supply stores. I have paid $2.50 for a 2 pound package, and about $42 for a 50 pound bag.
Dextrose [glucose] only has about 60% to 75% of the sweetness of sucrose [table sugar]. Therefore I use an additional sweetner.
3. Artificial sweetener to taste. See below for why I don’t usually use table sugar (sucrose.) I use eight single-serving packets of various artificial sweeteners such as Ideal, Stevia, saccharin (the pink one), or sucralose (the yellow one, or Splenda). Generic pink and yellow sweetener packets can be had at discount stores for about $1.00 per box of 100 packets. Stevia is $.035 per packet at Dollar General.
4. 3/8 teaspoon of table salt, which provides approximately 885 mg of sodium, depending on the grain size. The nutrition label of my container of table salt indicates 590 mg sodium per 1/4 teaspoon. Therefore 3/8 teaspoon per 2 quarts equates to 110 mg of sodium per serving of 8 fluid ounces, same as regular Gatorade.
Cost: negligible. You may wish to use “IODIDE FREE” table salt for sports drinks if you already take a vitamin supplement that has iodide, or if your regular table salt contains iodide.
(Note: if you wish to approximate the more closely “isotonic” Vitalyte/Gookinaid/ERG, then use 1/4 teaspoon of table salt, or 590 mg sodium, per 2 quarts, which will yield approx 74 mg sodium per 8 fluid ounces.
Reminder: if you are on a salt-restricted diet, check with your physician about using electrolyte drinks.
5. Four tablets, crushed to a powder, of Potassium Gluconate, 550 mg per tablet. This can be found in the vitamin section of your grocery store. Each tablet has 90 mg of elemental potassium, giving 360 mg potassium per two quart mixture, or 45 mg potassium per serving of 8 fluid ounces.
I use a heavy soup spoon and use the convex side to crush the tablet into powder against a folded-over paper towel.
45 mg potassium is a closer/better ratio of potassium to sodium than Gatorade’s 30 mg. However, if you are on a potassium restricted diet (such as a dialysis patient), then check with your physician first.
There are some formulations of Potassium Gluconate that have 99 mg of elemental potassium. If you are only using 3 or 4 tablets of Potassium Gluconate per 2 quarts, the difference between the 90 mg tablet and the 99 mg tablet is negligible.)
(Note: if you wish to approximate the more closely “isotonic” Vitalyte/Gookinaid/ERG, then use 8 crushed tablets of 90 mg elemental potassium, or 7 crushed tablets of 99 mg elemental potassium.)
Warning: if you are a dialysis patient, or are on a potassium-restricted diet, you must check with your doctor about consuming potassium.
The flavoring, artificial sweetener, salt and dextrose will dissolve almost immediately. It takes a while (an hour or more, depending on water temperature) for the powder from the crushed potassium gluconate tablet to fully dissolve since it has binders and fillers in it.
I pour the mixture into bottles of 16 to 24 ounces, freeze them until they are slushy, put the bottles into a foam can/drink cooler, and carry one in each hand while running.
It depends on how hot it is, and how hard I work out, but I generaly consume 32 ounces of liquid per hour of working out. A little less if I’m well-hydrated before starting, or if the ambient temperature is cool.
I choose to get all, or most, my calories in my sports drink from dextrose, which is also known as glucose, because that is what the body burns during exercise, and the glucose aids the body in absorbing the water. If you use a sugar-free, or low calorie electrolyte mix, you will need to drink more, because your body tissues will absorb it slower.
Table sugar, also known as sucrose, is a disaccharide, meaning it is composed of two sugar molecules: one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule. So by using the same caloric quantity of sucrose, you are only getting half as much glucose/dextrose.
Fructose is not immediately made available as energy in the body like glucose is. As glucose is absorbed into the blood stream, it is carried to the muscles and can be immediately converted to energy. Fructose, on the other hand, is converted by the liver to a lipid (fat), and then your body must metabolize it as a fat. ( http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/895.full )
If you wish to use sucrose (table sugar) instead of artificial sweeteners as above, compute your calorie levels accordingly and adjust the amount of dextrose powder. Table sugar has 15 calories per teaspoon (45 per tablespoon), and powdered dextrose has 12 calories per teaspoon (36 per tablespoon).
Molasses is an excellent source of natural potassium. Not all brands carry the potassium content on the nutrition label, but Brer Rabbit does. The “Full Flavor” variety of Brer Rabbit molasses has 200 mg potassium and 60 calories (from sucrose) per tablespoon. I sometimes use it instead of potassium gluconate tablets and artificial sweeteners, then adjust the dextrose accordingly to maintain 45 to 60 calories per 8 fluid ounces.
Molasses also has some calcium and magnesium, which are also necessary electrolytes. However, even Professional Gatorade and Vitalyte only have small amounts of calcium and magnesium, even smaller than what’s in a teaspoon of molasses.
There are three basic grades of molasses, which have varying concentrations of potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. They also vary among producers.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician. I do not hold a degree or any sort of certification in nutrition or any sports-related field. Use the above information, or any commercially prepared electrolyte drink at your own risk.