What Are Electrolytes?

Your body needs more than just water to stay hydrated.

Updated on April 17, 2024

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There’s more to staying hydrated than just drinking water. Electrolytes are important nutrients that help maintain your body’s fluid balance.

Electrolytes 101

Electrolytes are substances that conduct an electric current. In the body, they help facilitate actions of the nervous system, maintain proper fluid and acid-base balance and allow muscles to contract.

Many important minerals also act as electrolytes. Some of the major players for healthy muscles are sodium, chloride, potassium and calcium.

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Photo by: GorynVD/Getty Images

GorynVD/Getty Images

Which Foods and Drinks Contain Electrolytes?

You can find electrolytes in a wide variety of foods and beverages. If these foods are regular fixtures in your eating patterns, you can rest assured you’re getting enough.

Sports Drinks: A good choice after a sweaty workout, many electrolyte products contain fluid and carbohydrates along with sodium and potassium. While the sugar may deter some from choosing a product, the easily digestible carbs enhance electrolyte absorption. Here’s a list recommended sports drinks.

Orange Juice: One cup of orange juice has 12 percent of the daily recommendation for potassium. You’ll also get vitamin C – it isn’t an electrolyte but it does help keep muscles, skin and connective tissue healthy.

Coconut Water: Coconut water is often had as an alternative to sports drinks (but isn’t actually a sports drink). If you’re a fan of the taste coconut water, it comes jam-packed with potassium. It also contains a small amount of sodium, but since sodium is the most plentiful electrolyte lost in a sweat, it’s not an even swap for sports drinks.

Fruits and Vegetables: Potatoes, raisins, bananas, spinach and sweet potatoes are just a few potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. Get calcium from leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard and arugula.

Salty (Healthy) Foods: Canned tuna and salmon, soup, beans, pickles, olives and whole-grain breads are higher-sodium foods that are actually good for you. Since most of these foods are seasoned with table salt (a.k.a. sodium-chloride), you’ll find both electrolytes.

Dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt are packed with bone-building calcium. People who have trouble digesting dairy or follow a vegan diet can get plenty of calcium from a combination of leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified foods like juices, tofu, soy milk and cereals.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

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