How to Get Electrolytes: Types, Benefits, Dosage, and More

Written by Krista Bugden
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, RD

January 4, 2024

75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated (1). And if you’re thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated. In other words, yes, drink up—but staying hydrated isn’t only about drinking enough water. 

Electrolytes play a key role in maintaining fluid balance in the body. Without them, we can become severely dehydrated, experience muscle weakness and cramping, feel disoriented and confused, experience increasing fatigue, have undesirable digestive issues—like constipation and diarrhea—and, in serious cases, face life-threatening complications (2).

In a world where we are constantly told to reduce our salt intake, electrolyte recommendations can be ultra-confusing. Once called “white gold,” salt itself isn’t necessarily the problem it’s made out to be (3). In this article, we explore what electrolytes are, the types of electrolytes (including salt), their benefits, and how to get enough each day.

What Are Electrolytes?

“Electrolytes are minerals with a natural positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water,” says Dr. Menka Gupta, Functional Medicine Doctor at NutraNourish.

And what do they do?

Gupta elaborates: “They help your body regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside your cells, and are also a key way to diagnose a wide range of diseases,” says Dr. Menka Gupta, Functional Medicine Doctor at NutraNourish.

She goes on to explain, “They are needed for basic life functions such as muscle contraction, fluid balance, proper nerve function, and maintaining the body's pH levels.” 

The most well-known source of electrolytes is sports drinks, which have been around since 1965 (4). 

However, the discovery of electrolytes dates back to Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius’s 1884 dissertation for his doctorate. Within this dissertation, Arrhenius outlined an explanation for salt dissolving when placed in water (5). Eventually, Arrhenius went on to earn a Nobel Prize for his research on electrolytes and how they function.

There's a 75% Chance You're Dehydrated

There's a 75% Chance You're Dehydrated

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

What Are the Different Types (and Benefits) of Electrolytes?

The most common electrolytes include:

  • Sodium (salt)
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphorous
  • Bicarbonate

It’s easier to understand the benefits of electrolytes if we take a look at each one individually. So, let’s begin with the most controversial and often vilified—salt.

Sodium (Salt)

Surprisingly, salt and sodium aren’t necessarily the same thing. Salt’s chemical name is “sodium chloride.” In other words, sodium is a mineral found in salt (6). Yet, for the sake of this article, we’re going to talk about them together. 

A common belief is that salt is bad, and we should do everything in our power to reduce our salt intake. But salt, or sodium, isn’t necessarily the problem. Oftentimes, the major issue is a diet filled with excessive ultra-processed foods—which most experts will agree is driving the obesity epidemic.

We need sodium for:

  • Maintaining blood volume
  • Nerve impulse transmission
  • And normal cell function (7).

Chronic deficiencies in sodium are linked to headaches, confusion, nausea, and delirium (2). It has further been associated with increased falls in the elderly due to attention and cognitive deficits (8).

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Potassium

Sodium and potassium work hand-in-hand to ensure adequate fluid balance in the body’s cells. An adequate intake of potassium is linked to kidney health, healthy blood pressure levels, improved bone strength, and the maintenance of muscle mass (9).

Meanwhile, low potassium intake may lead to kidney stones, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, constipation, and fatigue.

Calcium

Calcium is well-known for its role in maintaining bone mass and health. Its lesser-known roles, however, include:

  • Aiding in muscular contraction
  • Helping with blood clotting
  • Regulating the secretion of hormones
  • And transmitting nerve impulses (2).

Hypocalcemia, or low levels of calcium in the blood, can lead to calcium deficiency symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue. A long-term calcium deficiency can lead to dental changes, cataracts, alterations in the brain, and osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become brittle.

Give Your Muscles the Nutrients They Need

Give Your Muscles the Nutrients They Need

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

Magnesium

These days, you’ll hear a lot about magnesium in terms of sleep. However, this mineral is involved in more than 300 reactions in the human body. 

On top of a good night’s rest, we need it for:

  • Protein production, including building muscle
  • Proper muscle and nerve function
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Energy production
  • And normal heart function (10).

…to name a few. 

Now, this might come as a shock: Many people are deficient in magnesium but unaware. This is because common “magnesium-rich foods” may lack this mineral due to deficiencies in the soil where these plants are grown (11). And this is also why magnesium supplementation is becoming very popular in the world of health.

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Chloride

Chloride is the other half of table salt. Its main benefits include:

  • Regulating fluid in the body’s cells
  • Maintaining proper pH levels
  • Stimulating the release of stomach acid
  • Supporting nerve and muscle cell functions
  • And helping with oxygen and carbon dioxide transfer in and out of cells (12).

Since chloride is often obtained from salt in our diet, sodium and chloride levels in our bloodstream are similar. Usually, a lack of chloride also mimics a sodium deficiency.

Phosphorous

This mineral works alongside calcium to maintain skeletal mass. A surprising 85% of phosphorous in the body is found in the bones and teeth, with the remainder residing in the body’s soft tissues (2). 

This mineral is essential for optimal metabolic function, including creating ATP—cellular energy. In terms of fluid balance, phosphorous plays a significant role in maintaining pH levels. It’s also recommended to always balance out phosphorous and calcium in your diet.

Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is the scientific term for baking soda. It works alongside sodium, as well as potassium chloride, to maintain pH levels (13). Interestingly, the body naturally produces bicarbonate, but it’s also found in mineral water.

How to Get Electrolytes

By now, we know the importance of electrolytes and their roles in the body. But one question that might come to mind is how to replenish electrolytes exactly. Luckily, many electrolytes can be consumed through our daily diet.

For example, adding some table salt to your daily meals can help you get enough sodium and chloride. Eating plenty of bananas, oranges, sweet potatoes, avocados, and beans can help you consume enough potassium. Calcium can easily be gained from leafy greens, chia seeds, and almonds. And dark chocolate lovers rejoice; this can be a great source of magnesium.

On top of this, Dr. Gupta says, “Homemade electrolyte drinks with coconut water, citrus, salt, raw honey, and ginger (can help replace electrolytes).”

And if you’re wondering how to add electrolytes to water, there are also plenty of options, such as NativePath’s Native Hydrate drink mix. This refreshing electrolyte powder contains key electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium alongside essential amino acids and 2,000 mg of BCAAs.

Another perk of electrolyte powders? They tend to be much lower in sugar compared to sports drinks, says Dr. Gupta.

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

Dosage: How Many Electrolytes Should I Take Per Day?

Electrolyte intake depends on various factors, like activity levels. However, the general recommended intake is about 4-6 grams of sodium, 1,250 mg of phosphates, 4,700 mg of potassium, 1,300 mg of calcium, and 400 mg of magnesium. 

And yes, that sodium amount might seem high compared to expert recommendations. However, many indicate that these recommendations are overly cautious for the general population, and studies show no adverse effects of consuming about 5 grams of sodium per day, as long as these sources come from whole foods as opposed to processed foods (14). If you do have a medical condition such as hypertension or reduced kidney function, it is important to discuss electrolyte needs with healthcare providers such as your physician and dietitian.

“If lifestyle factors lead to depletion of these minerals (e.g. stress, excessive sweating, vigorous exercise, certain medications), the requirements go up. It is important to personalize,” adds Dr. Gupta.

So, how much electrolytes is too much? Well, you probably don’t need more than one serving of electrolyte powder per day. And you definitely don’t want to go overboard. Dr. Gupta adds, “Excessive electrolytes can cause some symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, diarrhea and constipation, nausea and vomiting.”

As for our Native Hydrate electrolyte drink mix, we recommend enjoying one scoop with 12-16 ounces of water daily. 

Krista Bugden
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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a freelance writer with a BS in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She spent 5 years working as a kinesiologist, giving her the first-hand experience she needed to write well-researched, scientific, and informative blogs.

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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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