We’ve all heard that hydration is crucial for peak performance and recovery, especially when we’re logging those extra miles on long training runs, races and while running in the heat.
But did you know that water alone isn’t always enough? Yes, it’s true. When we run, particularly in the heat or on those grueling long-distance treks, our bodies lose not just water but also crucial electrolytes, which play an essential role in our bodies’ function and recovery.
Replacing these lost electrolytes is a key factor in running performance and well-being, hence the need for an electrolyte replacement drink.
In this post I explain what electrolytes are, why they’re so essential for us runners, and how electrolyte supplements work.
Plus, I explain the various types of electrolyte supplements, from powders to tablets, available to us as athletes, and I’ll share my top picks for the best electrolyte drinks for runners.
Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a beginner just getting used to those long weekend runs, understanding the role of electrolytes will give you an edge in your training and help you become a stronger, more resilient runner.
What are electrolytes and why are they important for endurance runners?
Electrolytes are essential minerals that our bodies need to function correctly. These include sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate.
They carry an electric charge that helps manage various bodily functions, from nerve impulses to muscle contractions.
As runners, when we hit the trails or the track, we sweat. This isn’t just water leaving our bodies; it’s also a cocktail of these electrolytes and minerals.
If we don’t replace the electrolytes lost in sweat, we run the risk of electrolyte imbalance – our electrolyte levels get too low.
This can lead to symptoms such as muscle cramping, fatigue, nausea, and in severe cases, even heart irregularities.
For us endurance athletes, ensuring we have enough electrolytes is even more crucial. If you head out for a long run or an intense session, especially if running in the heat of summer, you may need an electrolyte drink to replace electrolytes you lose during that effort.
How electrolyte supplements work
Electrolyte drinks, powders, or tablets work by quickly supplying your body with the necessary electrolytes you’ve lost through sweat.
Once the drink mix powders have been mixed with water, they’re designed to be easily absorbed into your body, rapidly replenishing lost electrolytes and hydrating you at the same time.
When choosing an electrolyte supplement, it’s important to consider the balance and types of electrolytes provided.
Sodium, for instance, is one of the most crucial electrolytes for runners as we lose a significant amount in sweat. So, look for products that contain at least 100 mg of sodium per serving.
High quality electrolyte drink mixes that are designed for endurance athletes offer a good balance of electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium, and sodium, without any added sugars or artificial ingredients.
With so many options out there it can be hard to read through marketing speak of various brands to really understand which are the great brands, and which are those who tout their product has having ‘all natural’ ingredients when really what that means is the flavor is compromised by excessive use of Stevia, for example.
To help you narrow down your options to the best premium electrolyte drink mix brands, I’ve included our top tried-and-tested recommendations later in this post.
An overview of the different types of sports-focused electrolyte drinks and supplements
Gone are the days where you only really have the option of sports drinks like Gatorade.
As technology and sports nutrition knowledge has improved, so have our options for hydration, and there’s now a wide variety of electrolyte products to choose from.
Electrolyte powder vs. electrolyte drink mixes and tablets
These powders mix easily with water and provide both calories and electrolytes, which makes them a great all-in-one option.
Electrolyte drink mixes, like Skratch Sport Hydration Drink Mix are fantastic during your run to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
They’re designed to match what we sweat out, helping you maintain an optimal electrolyte balance during your run, but aren’t designed to provide a complete calorie replacement option like the Tailwind and Maurten options mentioned above.
Electrolyte drink tablets, on the other hand, are a more mess-free way to get for on-the-go hydration.
Brands like Nuun Sport offer a wide variety of flavors, and their tablets are packed with the electrolytes runners need most. They’re compact, easy to carry, and you just need to drop them in your running water bottle when needed.
Electrolyte drink mixes vs. energy gels
Electrolyte drink mixes and energy gels both have their place in a runner’s fueling strategy.
Energy gels such as GU are designed to provide a concentrated source of energy and electrolytes.
They’re easy to take even in the middle of a run and provide a quick energy boost when you need it most, but you’ll need to wash them down with a drink of water.
While electrolyte drink mixes are blended with your water so you’re taking them into your body every time you drink, you need to plan the timing of when to eat energy gels to match your body’s needs, and where you’ll be running.
For example, you’re better off consuming a gel while moving slower, such as uphill, than when you’re putting the pedal down on faster sections of your trail run or race.
To learn more about gels, read our guide to the best energy gels and chews for runners.
Electrolyte drinks vs tablets
Its worth also knowing that you don’t have to mix a dissolvable tablet or powder packet into water to replenish electrolytes during your runs.
If you prefer to simply drink water when you run, and take on electrolyte replenishment separately, then also consider taking electrolyte supplements in tablet form, such as SaltStick FastChews or Caps.
This may be a good option for you if you share your water with your four-legged trail buddy while running with your dog 🙂
When to take electrolyte drinks, powders, or supplements while running
The “when” to take electrolyte drinks can be a bit tricky to pin down, as it depends on your unique needs, the conditions you’re running in, and the intensity of your workout.
However, a general guideline is to hydrate with an electrolyte drink every 15-20 minutes during a run. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to start hydrating; by that time, you could already be dehydrated.
For a shorter run, you can pre-mix the electrolytes in your running water bottle. For longer runs and races, you can also carry single-serve stick packs, sachets or tablets in your running hydration vest or running belt, to use when you replenish your water supply during your run or race. You’ll also want a way to get in more calories and energy quickly, and thats where running gels come in.
Post-run hydration is also essential. After a sweaty run, reaching for a high-quality electrolyte drink will help kickstart recovery by replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes.
The best electrolyte drinks for runners
Below are some of the best electrolyte drinks, powders, and tablets available for runners and other athletes.
We’ve included the amount of sodium in each as an indication of the relative concentration of electrolytes each option has to offer.
Check individual product details to confirm nutritional profiles and for more info on other mineral content, as they can vary by flavor and as products are updated by the brands.
Skratch Labs Sports Hydration Drink Mix
- Serving size: 1x 22g scoop (mix with 500ml water)
- Sodium: 380mg
- Carbs: 21g
- Cost: $22 for a 20-serving bag
Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix offers an optimal balance of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium – the essential electrolytes you lose in sweat.
But what makes Skratch Labs truly stand out is their commitment to using real, recognizable ingredients.
The sugar in their mixes comes from real fruit, which also gives each mix a natural, light, refreshing taste that’s easy to drink down, even in the toughest miles of your run.
Gnarly Nutrition Gnarly Hydrate Drink Mixes
- Serving size: 1x 10g scoop (mix with 350-500ml water)
- Sodium: 250mg
- Carbs: 7g
- Cost: $30 for a 40 serving bag
Gnarly Hydrate is all about replenishing electrolytes and promoting optimal hydration, but what sets it apart is its focus on including all-natural ingredients.
It contains essential electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals and it’s made with no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavors. Plus, it’s low-carb, which is great if you prefer to get your running fuel from other food or gel sources.
Additionally, Gnarly Hydrate boasts sea salt for sodium and includes other trace minerals, which can often be overlooked in other electrolyte supplements.
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
- Serving size: 1x scoop mixed with 350-500ml water
- Sodium: 400mg
- Carbs: 20g
- Cost: $20 for an 8-pack
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel is a favorite among ultramarathon runners, and it’s not hard to see why. You can consume it as you run without needing any other sports nutrition products along the way – it’s a complete endurance fuel, including both carbs and electrolytes.
This drink mix boasts a straightforward ingredient list: organic, non-GMO cane sugar, and a well-balanced electrolyte profile.
It offers a 2:1 glucose to fructose ratio for efficient energy use and absorption. Additionally, it’s vegan, gluten-free, and comes in several delicious flavors.
One of the best features is that it’s easy on the stomach, a crucial factor when you’re consuming it over many hours of intense activity, especially if you struggle with consuming gels and other foods during your runs.
Maurten Drink Mix 320 / 160
Drink Mix 320:
- Serving size: 1x 80g sachet (mix with 500ml water)
- Sodium: 200mg
- Carbs: 79g
Drink Mix 160:
- Serving size: 1x 40g sachet (mix with 500ml water)
- Sodium: 400mg
- Carbs: 39g
Maurten Drink Mix is a unique product in the world of sports hydration.
It uses hydrogel technology to encapsulate high concentrations of carbohydrates, providing sustained energy release while minimizing gastrointestinal distress. It also contains a well-balanced mix of essential electrolytes.
You can choose between the Drink Mix 320 and 160. Drink Mix 320 has twice the amount of carbs compared to Drink Mix 160, but half the amount of sodium. Drink Mix 160 is the one to go for if you’re more concerned about electrolyte intake than carb replenishment.
Another benefit of Maurten is the absence of added flavors, colors, or preservatives, making it a natural choice for runners with sensitive stomachs or who prefer less chemically complex products.
Nuun Sport Hydration Tablets
- Serving size: 1x 5.5g tablet (drop into 500ml water)
- Sodium: 300mg
- Carbs: 4g
- Cost: $26 for 4 x 10 tablet tubes
Nuun Sport is a fan favorite in the running community, thanks to its portable, easy-to-use tablet format.
These tablets are designed to dissolve in water, providing a light, fizzy drink packed with the right balance of electrolytes and a hint of clean, refreshing flavor.
With a variety of flavors to choose from and the convenience of carrying a small tube in any pocket, Nuun Sport tablets are a good option for on-the-go replenishment where you don’t want the potential mess of mixing a powder into your running water bottle.
DripDrop Electrolyte Powder Packets
- Serving size: 1x 10g sachet (stick) mix with 237ml water
- Sodium: 330mg
- Carbs: 9g
- Cost: $30 for a 32 stick (serving) pack
DripDrop is a premium electrolyte hydration solution initially developed for disaster relief scenarios but also popular with a range of professions and athletes.
These easy-to-serve powder stick packets are formulated for rapid absorption, matching the hydration speed of an IV treatment, and are designed to be mixed with around half the amount of water of other hydration mixes on this list.
if DripDrop ORS appeals to you, my tip is to carry a separate water bottle for this drink mix, because at this level of concentration you’ll probably still need a separate water source.
LiquidIV Hydration Multiplier
- Serving size: 1x 16g sachet (stick) mix with 500ml water
- Sodium: 500mg
- Carbs: 11g
- Cost: $25 for a 16 sachet (serving) packet
LiquidIV’s Hydration Multiplier is another powerful electrolyte drink mix, similar to DripDrop.
It utilizes Cellular Transport Technology (CTT) to deliver hydration and key nutrients into your bloodstream faster.
The LiquidIV Hydration Multiplier contains an optimal ratio of electrolytes, glucose, and water for rapid rehydration. Additionally, it offers several B vitamins and vitamin C for an extra health boost.