June 19, 2023

Can You Drink Too Many Electrolytes?

Sports drinks are best when needed — and that’s not all the time

Person drinking sports drink with electrollytes while taking a break from tennis.

Your body needs electrolytes. These amazing substances help your body function in numerous ways. They work to maintain fluid balances. They turn nutrients into energy. They support muscle control and heart rhythm.

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It’s an impressive resume of health-related awesomeness — which explains why electrolyte-enhanced drinks are so popular, especially among the fitness crowd.

So, if electrolytes are that fabulous, more would be better for you … right? Not exactly, says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. Here’s why too much of a good thing can be problematic.

Worries about electrolyte imbalances

There’s a long scientific explanation for what electrolytes do — but at the most basic level, the job focuses on one primary thing: Maintaining balance in your body.

We typically think of an electrolyte imbalance as meaning you’re low on them. In fairness, that’s how electrolyte-enhanced products such as sports drinks are marketed. The whole idea behind them is to replenish depleted reserves.

That’s why electrolyte products are high in sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate and other key electrolyte-boosting elements. It’s all about resupplying your body.

But electrolyte imbalances can be on the high side, too, and that brings its own set of problems.

“An imbalance of electrolytes can occur when the concentration is too high for your body — specifically, your kidneys and hormones — to regulate,” explains Zumpano. “Any of the elements in excess can lead to negative health outcomes and harmful effects.”

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What happens if you have too many electrolytes?

Having too much of a particular electrolyte element in your system can lead to symptoms like:

Is it safe to drink sports drinks all day?

It’s not a good idea to turn electrolyte drinks into your go-to beverage throughout the day. “It’s certainly possible to go overboard with them,” warns Zumpano.

Guzzling a sports drink isn’t the same as sipping water for basic hydration, after all. View electrolyte-enhanced drinks as a specialty product to be used when necessary ­to replenish your body’s lost resources.

Moments when you might want to consider reaching for an electrolyte drink include:

  • After a workout or physical activity.
  • On an extremely hot day when you’ve been sweating a lot.
  • During an illness that causes dehydration.

“Replenishing your electrolytes in those cases will make you immediately feel a little better,” says Zumpano. “Listen to your body and take in what you need — but don’t overdo it.”

Sports drinks can be high in sugar and calories, too — another reason for moderation.

How many sports drinks can you have daily?

Show some restraint in downing electrolyte drinks even when it’s an ideal time to tip one back. (A warning, too: Electrolyte drinks increase your thirst; therefore, making them easier to drink when compared to water.)

“One or two electrolyte drinks should be enough for most people to reach a safe and healthy balance after you deplete resources,” advises Zumpano. “If you’re still thirsty after that, try to drink water.”

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If you struggle drinking plain water because it’s … well, plain, try adding some lemon, lime, mint or cucumber to naturally enhance the flavor.

Other sources of electrolytes

One more thing to consider when deciding whether you need to randomly crack open a sports drink: You also get electrolyte elements through what you eat.

“Electrolytes are found in a whole slew of foods — and especially in fruits and vegetables,” clarifies Zumpano. “If you’re eating a diet rich in whole foods, you’re going to meet your basic electrolyte needs unless you do something extra [like exercise] and need to replenish.”

Final thoughts

Sports drinks can be an effective way to replenish lost electrolytes after a tough workout or sweating during a blistering hot day. But these electrolyte-heavy concoctions aren’t meant to be an all-day drink.

“It’s important to keep your electrolyte levels balanced — and that includes not pushing those levels too high,” says Zumpano. “So, don’t take in what you don’t need.”

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