When you are depleted from physical exhaustion, the heat, or from sickness, you may want to consider an electrolyte replacement drink, a sports drink, or some coconut water. We found over 90 different products in the marketplace, and most of them had lots of sugar and unidentifiable junk inside them. So which electrolyte replacement drink & coconut water do we recommend? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst collagen, best & worst probiotics, & best & worst air purifiers, now join us for the best & worst electrolyte replacement drinks, sports drinks & coconut water.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, BSN. Most electrolyte replacement drinks are supplements and their use needs to be monitored by a physician. Please consult your physician before drinking them or giving them to your children. This post contains affiliate links.
What Are Electrolyte Replacement Drinks & Why Are They Needed
Your body depends on the perfect ratio of salts and minerals to keep your nerve, heart, and muscle functions happy. Electrolytes are essential to balance those levels that help your body function and are essentially charged metallic “ions” that balance the pressure inside our cells and the pH balance of our blood. Electrolytes include:
Most of the time, electrolytes are found in our food and water, but recently those amounts of important salts and minerals have been depleted from the soil from erosion and water from filtration.
So when you are found depleted from a night drinking too much alcohol, from sickness, or from an athletic event, you can drink an electrolyte replacement drink and start to feel better.
If you were coming to this investigation thinking that we would only be recommending “natural” products, you may want to do a u-turn. In terms of electrolyte replacement drinks, the industry is full of unnatural things because they’ve found that bioavailability is more important when you are trying to avoid getting sicker or going to the hospital. So if you are willing to take a Tylenol or Advil over-the-counter medication (OTC) for when you are in pain, you should also be willing to drink something partially synthetic when you are in need of fast electrolyte replacement.
People Benefitting From Electrolyte Replacement Drinks
The four main categories of people who benefit the most from electrolyte replacement supplement drinks are:
- Athletes (or anyone working really hard, sweating, and getting lots of activity),
- Someone who is hungover from drinking too much alcohol,
- Someone who has been ill like from having a cold or the flu,
- Anyone with an illness that can cause electrolyte derangement such as malnutrition, kidney dysfunction, endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiac disorders, circulatory disorders, lung disorders, & acid-base imbalance. However please make sure you are monitored by a doctor because major problems can arise with overuse or improper use of electrolyte replacement drinks.
What Is Dehydration?
For as long as people have been alive, they’ve presumably been thirsty – and even more than that, they’ve gotten dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when we lose more fluid than we’ve been taking in, which makes it hard for the body to carry out its normal jobs – like ensuring proper kidney function or digestion.
The most common cause of dehydration is not drinking enough water throughout the day, however, hot weather, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, and working out really hard are other factors.
Most people can manage mild to moderate dehydration at home with symptoms like this:
- Major thirst
- Bad breath
- Darker colored (than normal) urine
- Decreased urination (from usual)
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Muscle cramps
- Sudden onset of confusion (especially in the elderly)
- Dizziness and/or fainting spells
- Sugar cravings
If left untreated, there are a number of complications of dehydration that include death. Others include:
- Heat injury – including heat exhaustion, and life-threatening heat-stroke
- Urinary & Kidney Problems – The urinary system takes a major hit if we are chronically or have prolonged periods of dehydration. These complications you DO NOT WANT and can include kidney stones, UTI’s, and the dreaded kidney failure
- Seizures – along with water, our bodies excrete our electrolytes – such as sodium – when we sweat or become ill. When there is a major imbalance, this can lead to seizures.
- Hypovolemic shock – this type of shock is not delivered by electricity but by a rapidly decreased blood volume – i.e. losing a lot of water and electrolytes in a short period of time. This can kill you if not immediately treated.
Treatment for dehydration is generally handled at home, with an increase in water and/or rehydration drinks, such as electrolyte drinks and/or coconut water. Mamavation has been working tirelessly to figure out which type of rehydration drinks have the least amount of “junk” for you to use.
What Are The Benefits And Drawbacks of Electrolyte Replacement/Sports Drinks?
In this massively growing part of the health industry, it’s important to understand the benefits (and the drawbacks) of these drinks, each of which is vying for your attention… and money.
The benefits of electrolyte replacement/sports drinks may include:
- Contain carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish what is lost through sweating
- Super convenient for people on the go
- Recommended for prolonged exercise and exercise in hot weather
- Helps prevent heatstroke
- Tend to offer both higher calorie and low-calorie options
- Easy for the body to digest
- Helpful during times of acute illnesses (such as the stomach flu) and other chronic conditions (such as chemotherapy use) and help those suffering feel better quicker
The drawbacks of electrolyte replacement/sports drink can include:
- They can be super-pricey
- They are frequently filled with sugars, like cane sugar, fruits or juices, or coconut powder that actually slow the progression of electrolytes to your body. In other words, “natural” means of solving your problem may not be as effective.
- The simple sugars needed for maximum & quick absorption, dextrose, are not what we would typically recommend you drink, so note that this is really a type of medical food where the other rules on “not eating processed food” go out the window. In other words, do you want it to work or not? If so, you may want to get over avoiding things like dextrose for this product category. Dextrose is actually more effective here because it’s tied to the World Health Organization formula based on 50 years of research on electrolyte replacement therapy in 3rd world countries.
- Some contain an “energy” component; generally, caffeine, which can have a bad effect on the health of some people
- The claims from their manufacturers are often unproven, and frequently so absurd as to be hilarious. This is because electrolyte replacement drinks either fall under “beverages” with no oversight or as “supplements” with little oversight.
- Mixing a depressant (alcohol) with a stimulant (the sports/energy drink) can be deadly for people who have heart issues.
- Often are used as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. But guess what? There is no replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
Problematic Ingredients Inside Electrolyte Replacement Drinks
Mamavation evaluated just over 90 products looking for problematic ingredients. Again, we wanted to remind you that this category is full of ingredients we would not normally recommend. But in terms of what is recommended by the World Health Organization based on 50+ years of research in 3rd world countries, it’s imperative to understand that this isn’t really a “food” category. It’s more like supplemental medicine that keeps you from having to go to the hospital and please talk to your doctor before you use these products to make sure you can. When evaluating this category, we found the following ingredients that did not belong in our “best” category. When you see these ingredients on the bottle, those products are reserved for “better” or “not our favorite” categories below.
- Artificial colors, which are typically petroleum-based & linked to problems like cancers & ADHD
- Artificial flavors, which can also be petroleum-based, but also can be based on things like paper or other types of things that you don’t really consider as food.
- Taurine, which has been banned in parts of the European Union because of deaths tied to Red Bull alcoholic drinks. Why is this a big deal? 20,783 visits to the emergency room in 2011 were caused by energy drinks in the United States alone.
- Too much sugar or not the right type of sugars. Ironically dextrose (pure anhydrous glucose) works better for quicker absorption, not cane sugar or maple syrup or even coconut powder. Sad, I know.
- “Natural flavors” which can include synthetic ingredients and processing making the end product something virtually synthetic. Ultimately we have no idea what they are because companies are not mandated to tell us. The truth is most of the time, they don’t even know themselves. This is because of the stronghold the natural “flavorists” have on the industry and the secrecy behind that. This can be a big issue for people who have allergies and sensitivities. But as a contrast, in the European Union, “natural flavor” is something that you can make in your kitchen and not something only capable in a lab. There is virtually no accountability here.
- Junk ingredients, or less expensive versions of vitamins and minerals that are there because they are cheap and have less bioavailability or are linked to gastrointestinal issues.
- sneaky ingredients made from techniques of synthetic biology like Sustamine that companies swear are not GMO, but they totally are. There are virtually no independent safety studies available on these new ingredients that start as a GMO yeast and “ferment” into something else inside a laboratory.
Coconut Water As an Electrolyte Replacement Drink
Simple sugar gets to your cells faster, which is why you see so much sugar in sports drinks. Fructose actually takes longer for your body to process, but coconut water is low in sugar and contains electrolytes like magnesium, sodium, potassium & calcium. At 46 calories per cup, it’s better than soda, juice, or sugary sports drinks.
Even though coconut water contains electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, it still has enough sugar to counterbalance those minerals into a sugar high and a crash, so it’s not a good idea to replace it with water all the time. You only want to use it when needed.
However, unless you are drinking coconut water right out of the coconut, it’s important to look into the processing and other ingredients inside.
- Using older less nutritious coconut water & covering that with flavors: As coconuts age, the nutrients in the water seep into the meat and then those coconuts are better used for coconut milk, coconut meat, and other coconut products. But it’s the younger coconuts that are needed for coconut water. Older coconut water tastes a bit off and would be less nutritious by that time, so some brands add other flavors to fix it so you won’t notice.
- Pasteurization controversial: Another potential issue we found was pasteurization, which is an important tool brands use to fight off bacteria and extend shelf life. However, we found conflicting information on this topic and very little to back up the idea that pasteurization made the coconut water not bioavailable or less nutricious. The studies on the benefits of coconut water you’ll find online are all based on conventional coconut water being used by athletes, which is very likely pasteurized, so we are not convinced that pasteurizing prevents coconut water from working. We did, however, find some information on how heating coconut water can change the ph, and one study saying the nutritious quality changes slightly based on the type of coconut used (green vs. yellow), but to be honest, when food is coming from that far away, I want it to be safe from microbes. Ultimately, what we have done is allowed “flash pasteurization” in the best category and left the other types of pasteurization in the lesser categories.
- Problematic leaching with can linings: The biggest issue we found in the coconut aisle (aside from added flavors) was the cans. Our partners at the Food Packaging Forum are not satisfied with any can linings yet, therefore we cannot be sure drinking coconut water from a can is safe. Why? Leaching is a very real possibility and no can lining has been determined to be safe regardless of what is said by the canning industry and brands. Some can linings we know about and know they are not safe based on the plasticizers used, while other can linings (like Oleoresins that are becoming popular in organic) are simply a mystery of science at this point. We have no idea what is inside the chemical used to attach the resin to the metal.
Coconut Water Is Incredibly Healthy
While most of us have seen coconut water around, as it is a fairly new option that can be found readily available that can also replace electrolytes while staving off dehydration. Most coconut waters tend to be straight from the source – often Thailand – and are not filled with additives or other types of naughty ingredients.
But is this trend a good alternative for electrolyte replacement drinks? We at Mamavation think so as coconut water has a number of benefits, including:
- Coconut water may contain antioxidants, helping your body fend off free radicals
- Animal studies have shown that drinking coconut water may stabilize the blood sugar of people with diabetes (provided it’s unsweetened coconut water and extra sugar is not added by the manufacturer)
- It contains many necessary electrolytes, water, and vitamin C
- Early research done in animals has shown a link between drinking coconut water and staving off kidney stones by reducing the formation of calcium oxylate crystals. Human studies are still pending.
- Other animal studies have indicated a link between lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, as well as increasing heart health.
However, some parts of the population can’t stand the taste of coconut water. This is why we put both electrolyte replacement drinks side by side with coconut water so you could choose based on your palate preferences. It’s that idea that it may be good for you, but if you can’t stand it, you won’t consume it.
Milk As an Electrolyte Replacement Drink
Milk has a rich supply of electrolytes like potassium, sodium, calcium, and natural sugars. The special blend of carbs and protein together is great for an after-workout drink.
Consumption of about two cups of milk after a strenuous workout can aid in decreasing muscle soreness in females and decrease serum markers of muscle damage in both males and females.
This unsung hero of athletic recovery could be a better alternative for children & other people who already drink milk. But because milk has been known to contain phthalates, based on the plasticizers used to capture and process the dairy, it’s recommended to opt for low-fat or non-fat milk instead because those issues present themselves only in the milk fat.
Electrolyte Tablets & Powders
Electrolyte tablets are a convenient, inexpensive, and portable way to make your own electrolyte drink no matter where you are. They come in tablets and powders, some single-serve powders that are very convenient on the go.
All you have to do is drop one of the tablets (or powder) in some water and shake or stir to mix.
Most electrolyte tablets contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — though the exact quantities may vary depending on the brand.
They also tend to be low-calorie, have little to no added sugar, and come in a variety of unique, fruity flavors.
Because this category was typically lower in sugar, even if they contained coconut powder or fruit juice powder, we allowed them in the “best” category provided the other ingredients were okay.
Electrolyte Replacement/Sports Drinks PLUS Energy
While combining electrolytes, carbohydrates, caffeine (or other stimulants) sounds like a good plan, it’s not really wise. Why?
- Caffeine is a diuretic – meaning that you’ll lose the precious water you need to stave off dehydration and heat stroke
- You don’t actually need the additional electrolyte PLUS drinks out there – those are only really useful to competitive athletes
- Those “extra” ingredients haven’t been studied well enough synergistically for us to know how they will affect our bodies, such as guarana, ginseng, gingko biloba, & taurine. Why is this a big deal? 20,783 visits to the emergency room in 2011 were caused by energy drinks.
- Energy or sports drink companies (such as Red Bull) can label themselves as “beverages” and completely skip over any safety regulations mandated by “dietary supplements”
- Other electrolyte replacement drinks can label themselves as “dietary supplements,” which means that (surprise, surprise!) the FDA does not strictly monitor what is in them either
- The caffeine content can be significantly higher than a can of soda or a cup of coffee which can lead to serious symptoms in some types of individuals.
- Your precious sleep can be interrupted very easily by ingesting these sports + energy drinks and NO ONE likes that
Mamavation’s Investigation of Electrolyte Replacement Drinks & Coconut Water
Mamavation found over 90+ products claiming to be an electrolyte replacement, sports drink or coconut water. We studied marketing materials put forward by each brand looking for ingredients & information on processing. Mamavation only contacted a few coconut water brands to ask specific questions on processing that was left off the website.
We also focused primarily on transparency of ingredients. This is a BIG problem with this industry in general and that greatly concerns us because of the lack of oversight here. So in terms of transparency, we took issue with “natural flavors” and rated them down.
One founder of a “better” brand we interviewed anonymously told us the truth behind the problem of “natural flavors.” The “flavorists” who own the “flavor houses” closely guard their formulations to the extent that not even the brands themselves know what is inside them. Then, in order get those delicious flavors, they have to sign agreements to never talk about them. The brands will likely know the allergen information, but not much else. They typically don’t know the specifics on how those “natural flavors” are processed or created. This problem is quite frightening and is rampant in supplements, food, beverages, and other types of products with “natural flavors.” Therefore whenever we saw “natural flavors,” we ranked them down.
Not Our Favorite Electrolyte Drinks & Coconut Water
These electrolyte replacement products had either one or more of the following: artificial colors, artificial flavors, harsh preservatives, excessive sugar, taurine, or other excessive junk. Coconut waters are from concentrate and/or contain added flavors (to possibly hide the taste of using older coconuts). These coconut waters may also use cans.
- Amy & Brian Coconut Water Cinnamon
- Amy & Brian Coconut Water – Lime
- Catalyte By Thorne
- Drip Drop ORS Electrolyte Powder
- EFS Pro-Drink Professional Strength Sports Drink
- Gatorade Thirst Quencher
- Gatorade Zero (G Zero)
- Gatorade – Propel Electrolyte Water Berry Flavor
- Goya Coconut Water
- GU Industry Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Mix Drink
- Keto Chow Electrolyte Drops
- Kirkland Organic Coconut Water
- Laird Hydrate Original Coconut Water
- Naked Juice Coconut Water
- O.N.E. Coconut Water
- Pedialyte Advanced Care
- Pedialyte Sports Liters
- Purium Ionic Elements
- Science in Sport Go Electrolytes Energy Powder Drink (Lemon-Lime)
- Seeking Health Optimal Electrolyte Drink (Orange)
- Trace Minerals: Electrolyte Stamina Mix
- Vitamin Water Essential (Orange)
- Vitamin Water Zero Power-c (Dragon Fruit Flavor)
- Zipfizz Electrolyte Healthy Energy Drink Mix
Better Electrolyte Drinks & Coconut Water
These electrolyte replacement products mostly contain “natural flavors,” and do not disclose all their ingredients. This is very problematic for people who are sensitive or have allergies. As for coconut water brands, these brands are either using cans and/or use high heat pasteurization to preserve the coconut water.
- 365 Everyday Value Coconut Water
- Amazing Grass Strawberry Lemonade Effervescent Hydrate
- Amazing Grass Watermelon Lime Effervescent Hydrate
- Amy & Brian Coconut Water – Original
- Amy & Brian Coconut Water with Pulp
- Arbonne Energy Fizz Sticks – Powder
- Blue Monkey Coconut Water
- Body Armour Lyte
- Body Armour Sport Water
- Buoy All-Natural Electrolytes
- C2O Coconut Water
- Dr. Price Electrolyte Mix
- Element Labs LMNT Electrolyte Drink Mix
- Emergen-C ElectroMIX Electrolyte Replacement Powder
- Gatorade Organic Sports Drink (G Organic Thirst Quencher)
- Genius Electrolyte Powder
- Hoist Premium Hydration Isotonic (many flavors)
- Hydralyte Electrolyte Hydration Powder Packets Formula
- Hydrant Rapid Hydration Mix
- Isagenix AMPED Hydrate
- Jigsaw Health Electrolyte Supreme Powder Berry-Licous
- Keppi Electroyles
- Kinderlyte Advanced Electrolyte Powder Lemon Lime
- Kinderlyte Advanced Oral Electrolyte Solution Raspberry Lemonade
- Kinderlyte Natural Pediatric Electrolyte Solution Fruit Punch
- Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, Electrolyte Powder
- Mojo Pure Coconut Water
- NormaLyte Oral Rehydration Salts
- Nuun Sport Hydration Tablets
- Organic Classic Thirsty Buddha Coconut Water
- Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration (Orange Flavor)
- Pedialyte Unflavored Electrolyte Solution – Liquid
- Pedialyte Electrolyte Water
- Purity Organic Coconut Water
- Purium’s Coco Hydrate
- Roar Organic Vitamin Enhanced Beverage
- Saltstick Caps, Electrolyte Replacement Capsules
- Simple Truth Electrolyte Drink
- SOS Active Electrolyte Drink (Berry)
- TIIGA Nature’s Hydration Baobab Electrolyte Drink Mix
- Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina Power Pack (Lemon Lime)
- UCAN Performance Energy Powder (Lemon-Lime Flavor)
- V8 +Hydrate Drink (Coconut Watermelon)
- Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydration Powder (Berry)
- Vita Coco Original Coconut Water
- Walmart Brand: Great Value Organic Coconut Water
- Yaco Organic 100% Pure Coconut Water
- ZICO Natural 100% Coconut Water
Best Electrolyte Drinks & Coconut Water
These electrolyte replacement products are free from problematic ingredients and are 100% transparent about their ingredients, including flavors. Coconut water is not from concentrate, does not contain added flavors to cover up taste, and has been “flash pasteurized” or not pasteurized.
- Blue Monkey Organic 100% Coconut Water (Tetrapak, not can)
- Body Bio E-Lyte Balanced Electrolyte Concentrate
- Earthy Natural Electrolyte Powder (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- EnduroPacks All-Natural Liquid Electrolytes
- Goodonya – Hydrate Electrolyte Drink (Powder)
- Harmless Harvest Harmless Coconut Water
- Hi-Lyte Electrolyte Concentrate
- Health Ranger Select Electrolyte Drops
- Key Nutrients Electrolyte Powder Plus (lemonade)
- King Island – Pure Coconut Water
- LyteShow Electrolyte Supplement
- NOOMA Organic The Real Electrolyte Sports Drink (Watermelon Lime)
- Purium Super Lytes
- PROMIX Muscle Fuel Intra-Workout Electrolyte Powder – Unflavored
- Real Coco Organic Pink Coconut Water
- Real Coco Organic Pure Coconut Water
- Re-lyte (Redmond Life) – Lemon Lime
- Skratch Labs Sports Hydration Drink Mix (Orange Flavor)
- Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Energy Drink Mix
- Taste Nirvana Real Coconut Water (23 oz glass bottle)
- Taste Nirvana Real Coconut Water (9 oz glass bottle)
- Total Hydration Ketolyte Rapid Hydration Electrolyte Drops
- Total Hydration Daylyte Electrolyte Mineral Drops
- Total Hydration Keto Electrolyte Capsules
- Trioral Rehydration Salts (World Health Organization ORS Formulation)
- Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Drink (Lemonade Flavor)