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How To Choose A Top-Notch Hydration Supplement

Lately, hydration supplements are on everyone’s shopping lists. And understandably so! A solid hydration supplement can improve hydration, enhance performance, and promote faster recovery when used in the right circumstances.

There’s one pretty big question here, though. What makes for a solid hydration product? The number of options can be straight-up overwhelming. From ready-to-drink beverages to tablets and powders, choosing the most suitable product can be daunting. 

Understanding a few key factors to consider when selecting a hydration supplement can keep you from getting lost in the sea of choices and ultimately reap maximum benefits. Here’s what to look for in an effective option.

Why (and what) we need to stay hydrated

The recommendations to come will make a whole lot more sense if you have a decent foundation of knowledge about why athletes and general health enthusiasts are so into hydration products.

Over time, we lose fluids and electrolytes through various body processes, such as sweating, urination, and breathing, among others. As such, we need to replenish those lost fluids and electrolytes through beverages, food, and sometimes dietary supplements. 

If we do not replenish these fluids and electrolytes, we may see decreases in exercise performance, declines in cognition, increased susceptibility to heat-related illness, and several other issues. And, of course, if left untreated, dehydration itself can eventually become directly life-threatening. So, staying consistently stocked on fluids and electrolytes is a must.

Here’s a closer look at those two essentials.

Water

Water is needed for maintaining numerous proper bodily functions, including regulating temperature, transporting nutrients, and removing waste products. How much water you should drink per day varies depending on factors such as age, gender, health status, and your environment. For example, regular physical activity and being in a warm environment both increase your hydration needs.

Since individual requirements may differ significantly, working with a nutritionist or other specialized healthcare professional is a good idea if you’re unsure about your hydration needs. That said, a general recommendation is that men should consume 3.7 liters (125 ounces) of water per day, while women should drink 2.7 liters (91 ounces). 

Read More: ‘I Tracked My Water Intake For 2 Weeks—Here’s What Happened’

Beverages like water, milk, juice, coffee, and tea contribute about 80 percent of the average person’s total water intake, while foods (higher-water eats include cucumbers, apples, celery, and, you guessed it, watermelon) account for the remaining 20 percent.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals capable of conducting electrical currents—and are essential for the body because of the important roles they play in cellular functions such as nerve impulse transmission and enzyme activation. Some of the major electrolytes found in the body are sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium

We require a combination of water and electrolytes for proper hydration—not just plain H2O! Electrolytes help maintain a proper fluid balance within the body, so without ample amounts, you may run the risk of an imbalance in which levels of various minerals become too high or too low. Because fluid balance is necessary for all sorts of bodily functions, an electrolyte imbalance can negatively affect vital body systems. Severe electrolyte imbalances can even cause serious problems such as seizures and cardiac arrest. 

Do you need a hydration Supplement?

Under average conditions, if you eat a well-balanced diet and drink enough fluids, you should be solid in the hydration department. However, if you engage in intense exercise, go for a long run, bike ride, or hike, work or play outside on a particularly warm day, or are recovering from a long night of adult beverages or an illness like the stomach bug, a hydration product can really come in handy and help you ward off dehydration.

3 Questions To Ask When Selecting A Hydration Supplement

With an endless number of options out there competing for your dollar and promising to hydrate you, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Here’s what to keep in mind when selecting one. 

Does it contain Sodium? (And How Much?) 

Many people looking for a hydration supplement train intensely and tend to sweat a lot! Remember, sweating is a major contributor to fluid and electrolyte loss. While sweat is mostly composed of water, it does contain various amounts of different electrolytes, too. The electrolyte found in the greatest amounts in our sweat is sodium—and by a good margin. For this reason, it is important to find a hydration supplement that contains a good amount of sodium to adequately replenish the losses that occur.  

Although most of us are told to limit sodium intake (after all, Americans generally consume disproportionate amounts of high-sodium foods), in this particular context, you need sodium. How much, exactly, depends. 

In general, if you are looking to take a hydration supplement to rehydrate after a vigorous exercise session, just be sure that the product contains above 100 milligrams of sodium and consider salting your foods liberally throughout the rest of the day. Though individual factors (like exercise intensity and duration, sweat rate, and the climate you’re working in) determine the maximum amount of sodium you want in a hydration supplement, in general, most people should stick below 1,000 milligrams of sodium at a time. When in doubt, continue to drink a water and electrolyte solution until your urine returns to a pale yellow color.

Read More: Attention Lifters—Dehydration Is Affecting Your Gains

Can you count on quality from this brand?

With any dietary supplement, it’s important to consider whether the hydration product brand you’re considering is reputable. Third-party testing certifications such as NSF Certified For Sport or Informed Choice for Sport are a great way to feel more confident in your purchase. The specifics of these certifications vary, but they generally confirm that an independent party has tested the product for various contaminants, such as banned substances and heavy metals. 

Is it a powder, tablet, or ready-to-go drink? 

Of course, the form in which you prefer to take in a hydration product is also important to think about. Are you looking for a quick fix to your already dehydrated state? Or do you want a product you can keep on standby and perhaps even travel with? 

If the former, a single-use ready-to-drink beverage may be most convenient. If the latter, a powdered electrolyte mix or tablet may be best suited for you. These products offer the ultimate convenience; keep a tub or packet of powder or a tube of tablets with you to amp up your beverage at any time. 

When using tablets or powders, be sure to read your labels before mixing. Follow directions and don’t take more than suggested.

The Bottom Line

The surge in the popularity of hydration supplements highlights a growing awareness of the importance of proper hydration for improved athletic performance and overall well-being. Understanding the fundamental role of water and electrolytes in maintaining bodily functions is crucial for making informed choices regarding hydration products. While water is, of course, essential, electrolytes play a pivotal role in hydration—particularly during periods of intense physical activity or in warm environments. 

Hydration products, such as electrolyte powders and tablets, as well as on-the-go drinks, offer convenient solutions for replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. By considering the factors mentioned above, you will confidently be able to select your next hydration product and support your overall wellness! 

Jacob Green, M.S., R.D., C.I.S.S.N., is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist from Cleveland, OH. Jacob completed his Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, along with 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience, at the University of Akron, and went on to complete a Master’s in kinesiology at Texas Tech University after passing his registered dietitian examination. During his time at Texas Tech, Jacob worked in Dr. Grant Tinsley’s Energy Balance and Body Composition laboratory, where he assisted with research related to dietary supplements, nutrition, body composition, and resistance training. Jacob is also a certified sports nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition and currently practices as a dietitian and online training and nutrition coach. You can find him on social media at @Jacobgreen_RD.

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