If you’re an active youth or adult, you’ve likely wondered if you should be using electrolytes. As a sports dietitian, I get the question about electrolytes for the recreationally active individual quite often. And quite frankly, I’ve had the question as I wonder if I should add electrolytes to my boys water bottles for all-outside-in-the-heat camps. Other popular scenarios include: 

  • High school football players wondering if they should take electrolytes prior to afternoon football camp along with their breakfast
  • Active adults desiring quick hydration after an hour long Peloton ride

Why We Chose Electrolyte Stick Packs

Stick packs are convenient, pre-measured, and I love how easily they can be packed in a backpack or gym bag. You might be wondering, but what about the carbs? Don’t active adults also benefit from the carbs in a sports drink? Yes. Carbohydrates in sports drinks play a critical role in exercise, especially when exercise is one hour or longer. But, for the purpose of this post, we’re focusing on the stick packs that only offer electrolytes in situations where carbs might be enjoyed through food or the pure goal is related to hydration versus energy. 

Because the world of sports beverages is neverending, we narrowed down our comparison to: 

  • Electrolytes only
  • Electrolytes that come in single, everyday packets
  • Popular electrolyte stick packs that our clients ask about most often
  • Electrolytes designed more for the recreational “active” individual compared to the ironman or marathoner who trains hour + a day 

Which Electrolytes Did We Focus On?

You’ll find a variety of electrolytes in stick packs: sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium as well as vitamins and other ingredients such as branch chain amino acids. But, the two you’re likely to find across the board are sodium and potassium. 

Sodium: When it comes to supporting hydration, the most important electrolyte is sodium since it’s the primary electrolyte lost in sweat. 

Potassium: Potassium helps balance the fluids in your body’s cells and plays a vital role in muscle contraction, including the heart muscle. Adequate potassium levels help prevent muscle cramps and support overall muscle function.

Does the Everyday Active Youth or Adult Even Need Electrolytes?

yellow yoga mat with yellow weights and a sports drink on the mat

For most people enjoying a balanced diet, electrolyte needs can be met through food and regular hydration. However, in certain cases, electrolytes may offer a benefit:

  • Intense or prolonged physical activity (90+ minutes) or 60+ minutes in a hot environment
  • Hot training environment or conditions that promote excessive sweating
  • Dehydrated from illness or diarrhea

Also, youth athletes (and adults) are more likely to meet their hydration needs when they drink a flavored beverage over water. There are many ways to flavor water outside of stick packs such as adding a splash of juice or cut up fruit or herbs such as mint.  

Our Top 10 Chart

comparison chart of electrolyte stick packs

The Too Much Sodium Category

Most active adults and kids don’t need 500+ mg of sodium for a hot day at camp or after a one hour run. Based on this, I would say Liquid I.V., LMNT, and Body Armor Flash I.V. could be saved for the endurance athletes training in many hours, in the heat. These products would especially be beneficial during training or on two-a-day workouts. 

The Artificial Sugar Category

The amount of artificial sugar in any of these packets is small and unlikely to cause problems. For more on artificial sugars and the impact on gut health, check out our post here. But, based on the research, I tend to avoid sucralose for the potential negative impact on our microbiomes and sorbitol to avoid GI distress. Drip Drop Zero Sugar, Prime and the Nuun Sport contain one or both of these artificial sweeteners. 

The Low Sodium Category

Ultima and Prime contain lots of potassium but are low in sodium. Sodium is the main electrolyte lost in sweat and necessary to support hydration. Based on the price point of these packets, I’d encourage you to have a large banana along with a glass of water. 

If I Had to Choose 

Based on the goals of the active individual, the best balance of sodium and potassium plus sugar type (and taste) are Cure and Mortal Hydration. Mortal Hydration is a touch higher in sodium, but they get strong reviews for flavor. I have tried Cure and enjoyed the Watermelon and Lemon options. The price point for both of these mixes is high. I’m more inclined to use these in a pinch compared to everyday use. 

The Real Winner…Is likely one you can make at home.

Here’s a recipe I often make for myself. It’s not as “convenient,” but it’s refreshing and checks the sodium and potassium box: 

McDaniel Nutrition’s Lime Coconut Refresher

glass of coconut water with a lime and a straw
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 cup coconut water (45 calories, 65 mg sodium, 390 mg of potassium)
  • 1 “dash” of salt (155 mg)
  • Lime squeeze
  • 1 cup sparkling water (lime, lemon or orange) 

In summary, while the average active adult may not need electrolyte drinks for light to moderate exercise, they can be beneficial for more intense and prolonged activities, particularly in hot conditions or for those who sweat heavily. Listen to your body and consider your individual needs when deciding to use these on-the-go electrolyte stick packs!