Buying Electrolytes? Skip These 5 Popular Brands (& Their Side Effects)

January 9, 2024

More and more electrolytes are hitting the market—typically in the form of powders and bottled beverages (think: Gatorade, Liquid I.V., and Prime). So how can you know whether or not you’re choosing the right one?

As a certified sports nutritionist and professional athlete, there are three things I look for in an electrolyte. Without these, an electrolyte supplement is useless—and unhealthy.

In this blog, I look at the ingredients and nutrition labels of the top five electrolyte brands and give you my honest opinion on each. Let’s get into it.

But First, What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolyte” is simply an umbrella term for any particle that carries a positive or negative electric charge.

In nutrition, it refers to essential minerals in your blood, sweat, and urine. When these minerals dissolve in a fluid, they form electrolytes—positive or negative ions in metabolic processes (1).

The electrolytes in your body include:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • And bicarbonate

Each of these is required for various bodily processes, from keeping your nervous system and muscles functioning to regulating your internal pH and keeping you hydrated.

"Most electrolyte products will offer benefits including improved exercise and sports performance, heat stroke prevention, rehydration during recovery or illness, and nervous system support," says Michelle Caslin, RDN, CSSD at Fuel 2 Live Nutrition. 

But what makes one different from another?

Let’s take a look at five different electrolyte supplements and see what they have to offer…

Note: I used the base product of each brand to ensure fairness in comparisons. All nutrition information was found on product websites.

1. Liquid I.V.

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Ingredients: Pure Cane Sugar, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Salt, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide, Rebaudioside-A (Stevia Leaf Extract), Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural Flavor, Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide), Vitamin B5 (D-Calcium Pantothenate), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin).

Liquid I.V. may be free of artificial colors, but it does come with an unnecessary amount of sugar (11 grams per serving). In fact, it’s the very first ingredient on the ingredient label.

We have enough sugary beverages in our world. An electrolyte drink mix shouldn’t be one of them.

And when it comes to the actual electrolyte part, Liquid I.V. contains sodium and potassium (510 mg and 380 mg, respectively), but it’s missing out on key minerals like calcium, chloride, and magnesium…

Magnesium is the one I’m most concerned about. With 56 to 68% of Americans not getting enough magnesium, it’s an essential mineral—especially for an electrolyte product (2).

2. Pedialyte

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Ingredients: Water, Dextrose. Less than 0.5% of: Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Natural Flavor, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Zinc Gluconate, Red 40, and Blue 1.

My biggest concern with Pedialyte is that it contains artificial dyes, most notably Red 40. 

Potential side effects of Red 40 may include (3):

  • Hyperactivity, including ADHD (4)
  • Behavioral changes like irritability and depression
  • Allergic reactions, including hives, sneezing, watery eyes, and skin irritation
  • Asthma
  • Migraines

Red dye 40 also contains benzene, a known cancer-causing substance.

In addition to the sugar and artificial dyes, Pedialyte also does not contain any magnesium, which, as I mentioned earlier, is a very important mineral that most people are deficient in to begin with.  

My last note about Pedialyte is that it’s pretty expensive—one 33 fl oz bottle can cost you anywhere from $5 to $8.

3. Gatorade

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Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Monopotassium Phosphate, Gum Arabic, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Natural Flavor, Yellow 5

*Contains No Fruit Juice

Touted the “Electrolyte Sports Drink,” Gatorade a far cry from what high-intensity athletes need to be replenishing their electrolytes with.

Why?

Each 20-ounce bottle has a whopping 34 grams of sugar in it.

To put that in perspective for you, the USDA recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar for women and 36 grams for men (5). So just one bottle of Gatorade exceeds a woman’s sugar intake by 9 whole grams (that’s two teaspoons!).

Not only that, but Gatorade also contains artificial dyes and does not have all the necessary electrolyte minerals like calcium and magnesium.

4. Propel

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Ingredients: Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Monopotassium Phosphate, Maltodextrin, Gum Arabic, Modified Food Starch, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sucralose, Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavor, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Acesulfame Potassium, Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect flavor), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Vitamin E Acetate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Propel is often seen as the “healthier alternative” to Gatorade since it has zero calories or sugar. But its nutrition label will tell a different story…

Propel contains sucralose. A 2023 study found that sucralose causes DNA to break apart, putting people at risk for disease (6). They also linked sucralose to leaky gut syndrome, which means the lining of the intestines is worn down and becomes permeable. Symptoms are a burning sensation, painful digestion, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. 

It also has acesulfame potassium (Ace K). Not to be confused with the actual mineral potassium, Ace K is a common artificial sweetener. It’s around 200 times sweeter than sugar and is what gives food and drinks their sweet taste—without adding extra calories.

However, studies have shown that Ace K can potentially disrupt metabolic processes, interfere with appetite regulation, body weight, and blood sugar control, increase the risk of cancer, and cause harm during pregnancy (7, 8, 9).

5. Prime

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Ingredients: Filtered Water, Coconut Water from Concentrate, Citric Acid, Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Trimagnesium Citrate, Sucralose, L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, L-Valine, D-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Acesulfame Potassium, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).

The coconut water is a promising start for Prime, but there’s only 20 mg of sodium per bottle. That’s about 0.4% of your daily recommended intake, which is fine…if it wasn’t an electrolyte product. 

Your body can’t make or store much sodium, so you need to replenish it if you’re sweating often or for prolonged periods. When sodium levels drop too low, it’s called hyponatremia—and it can potentially be dangerous (10).

Symptoms include: 

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

And, in extreme cases:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death 

Osteoporosis is another health risk of a low-sodium diet. Your bones serve as a sodium reservoir—and when you limit salt intake, your body pillages that reservoir of not just sodium but also calcium and magnesium.

What to Look for in an Electrolyte Supplement

"An ideal electrolyte is not hard to find if you know what to look for," says Caslin. "It should have minimal ingredients and contain a balanced ratio of essential electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium)."

1. Contains No Excessive Sugars

Consuming electrolyte products that contain sugar excessively without necessity can increase your daily caloric intake above what your body needs causing weight gain. Sugar can also increase your risk of severe health issues like chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes, depression, and cancer (11).

Added sugars have a knack for hiding in plain sight on ingredient labels. This is because sugars can go by dozens of different names, and a lot of them are a bit misleading. Here are a few types of sugars you might see:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup

2. Contains No Unnecessary Fillers

Caslin suggests reading nutrition labels to find products that meet your specific needs while limiting unnecessary ingredients like fillers, preservatives, artificial colors, synthetic chemicals, and additives.

Here are a few ingredients that you should look out for:

  • Artificial Dyes: Red #40, Yellow #6, and Blue #1
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Sucralose, Aspartame, Maltodextrin, and Acesulfame Potassium
  • Synthetic Additives: Polyethylene Glycol and Brominated Vegetable Oil

3. Contains All Electrolytes

When buying electrolytes, choose a product that contains all electrolyte minerals, including:

  • Sodium (the largest quantity): crucial for conducting nerve impulses, muscle contraction and relaxation, and maintaining the proper water and mineral balance. 
  • Potassium: essential for the normal functioning of all cells, potassium regulates the heartbeat, ensures proper muscle and nerve function, and plays a vital role in protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Magnesium: required for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, magnesium helps maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and promotes strong bones. It also aids in adjusting blood glucose levels and contributes to energy and protein production. 
  • Calcium: the most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is primarily stored in bones and teeth, providing them with structure and hardness. It’s also necessary for muscle movement and nerve communication throughout the body. 
  • Phosphorus: vital for the growth, maintenance, and repair of tissues and cells, as well as the production of DNA and RNA, the genetic building blocks. Phosphorus also helps balance and utilize other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.

My Favorite Electrolyte Supplement—Native Hydrate

My favorite way to replenish my electrolytes is the Native Hydrate drink mix. Native Hydrate contains all the major electrolytes, including 2 grams (200 mg) of sodium and 25% of your recommended magnesium intake.

In addition to the electrolytes, it has 2,000 mg of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), something no other electrolyte supplement contains. BCAAs support muscle building after resistance exercise, prevent fatigue during long-duration aerobic exercise, and reduce exercise-related muscle soreness. So you’re replacing the vital electrolytes you lost during your workout and helping your muscles recover faster, too. 

Best of all, Native Hydrate contains no added sugar, artificial flavors, or artificial colors. It’s sweetened with all-natural stevia and uses natural beetroot powder for color, making it the cleanest way to maintain hydration, energy, and muscle health.

Simply add one scoop to 12-16 ounces of filtered water and enjoy!

Hydrate Smarter, Not Harder

Hydrate Smarter, Not Harder

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop.

Add to Cart

Frequently Asked Questions About Electrolytes

Whether or not you should take electrolytes is dependent on you, your activity levels, and your health needs, but chances are your body is deficient in these vital minerals. And your needs might be higher than you think—especially for sodium. 

A 2011 study looked at salt intake and heart disease outcomes (heart attack, stroke, death) in 28,800 high-risk heart disease patients. They found that the lowest risk for bad outcomes was between 4 and 6 grams of sodium per day (The FDA currently recommends adults to consume under 2.3 grams of sodium per day). People restricting sodium had a 19% higher risk of cardiovascular death than those in that 4-6 gram range (12).

Kat Kennedy
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Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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