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Best Electrolyte Drinks for Runners

These easy recipes for electrolyte drinks are some of the best electrolyte drinks for runners. Endurance athletes and those competing in intense exercise need extra electrolytes to replenish what’s lost in sweat. Here are some tasty ways to do so.

female runner sitting down holding water bottle with electrolytes

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When we define hydration for running, we talk about drinking enough liquids, but also, including electrolytes in those liquids.

Without adequate electrolytes, the liquids we take in as endurance athletes (such as plain water) will just get excreted in the urine.

Electrolytes, namely sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, help our bodies actually absorb that fluid.

And if you’re a salty sweater, believe me, you need those extra electrolytes for endurance performance any way you can get them!

blue shirt with salty sweat on it

Maybe you want a natural Gatorade alternative, or maybe you just want to make the best electrolyte drink for runners.

Truthfully, making your own drink can be an easy option for electrolyte replacements for runners because you can control exactly what’s in it, including sodium, sugar and flavor.

I do love some electrolyte powders on the market that are easy to mix in water, like UCan and Skratch Labs.

Electrolyte tablets, like NUUN sport, or salt tablets, also work well for some runners. They need to be mixed with a recommended volume of liquid and dissolve, usually in ounces of water.

But, not everyone prefers these, and it can be a convenient option all around to have your own version with your own ingredients.

electrolyte drink with lemon and lime

Don’t be intimidated – we’ve got lots of options and flavors for you below!

Each of our homemade electrolyte drinks for runners recipes is tasty and great for hydration all around, whether you’re a marathon runner or just aiming to finish your neighborhood 5k.

Whatever it is, these options use easy-to-find ingredients to meet your needs for homemade electrolyte drinks.

Understanding Hydration

We all know that, especially as athletes, and especially during the summer, we need to drink lots of water.

On top of that, if you’re training and taking in energy gels for running or running chews, having something to wash it down with is necessary.

However, to stay optimally hydrated, your body needs more than just water, so let’s review some of the best electrolyte drinks for runners and athletes.

While water is arguably the central component of hydration, certain essential minerals called electrolytes determine how much water your body retains and where it is stored.

Electrolytes for runners and athletes are essential for health and performance!

lemon and sodium to make electrolyte drinks

Maintaining proper hydration before, during, and after training and competition will help reduce fluid loss, maintain performance, lower submaximal exercise heart rate, and maintain plasma volume.

Generally speaking, anything over an hour of exercise warrants extra nutrition and hydration, and anything in warmer weather.

But, each person’s sweat rate is unique and individual.

Being hydrated will have loads of benefits on performance and daily life.

Furthermore, it can help to reduce heat stress, heat exhaustion, and possibly heat stroke.

Review of Electrolytes

As previously mentioned, the main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

We’ve already done a breakdown of magnesium for runners and calcium for runners, so let’s review some of the others briefly.

Certain electrolytes, specifically sodium and chloride, concentrate outside the cell. Others, mainly potassium, concentrate inside cells.

The ratio of these three electrolytes, and a few other minor ones, affect how much water flows in or out of cells, which is referred to as water balance or fluid balance.

big globule of water over cells

If the ratio of electrolytes is off (ie you have an electrolyte imbalance), you’re more likely to become dehydrated or overhydrated because your body biochemically cannot retain the proper amount of water.

We regularly obtain electrolytes through a majority of foods in our diet, such as breads, packaged foods, frozen foods, bakery items and more.

Sodium is generally the most abundant electrolyte in the diet and the key player for water balance.

However, we also excrete electrolytes in urine and sweat.

Therefore, if you’re an athlete or someone who sweats a lot, you’re likely excreting more electrolytes than you can keep up with replenishing through diet alone.

plate of breads and pastry items

On top of that, maybe you follow a whole foods vegan running diet, don’t salt your food or eat alot of processed foods in your diet to begin with.

If this sounds relatable, it might be time for you to start supplementing with a DIY electrolyte drink or one of these running electrolyte recipes.

Plus, homemade drinks can help increase fruit for runners, and contribute more to carbohydrates, which runners generally need more of.

Best Hydration Drinks For Runners: What They Offer

Maintaining proper hydration before, during and after training and competition will help reduce fluid loss, maintain performance, lower submaximal exercise heart rate, and maintain plasma volume.

As a Registered Dietitian (particularly a sports dietitian), I’m looking for an electrolyte replacement for runners to have three to four key things:

  • Carbohydrates, to enhance fluid absorption and fuel your distance
  • Electrolytes, mainly sodium
  • Calories
  • Flavor enhancers -we want it to taste good to stimulate thirst and fluid intake and allow us to want to drink it

While calories and carbohydrates are not necessary if you just want homemade electrolyte water, you’ll likely need them elsewhere if you’re doing longer runs and distances for endurance nutrition.

Plus, carbohydrates and hydration go together. Did you know for every gram of glycogen we store in our muscle, we store about 3-4 grams of water?

In other words, we need to stay hydrated to have adequate energy in our muscles and perform muscle contraction.

woman in pink sports bra flexing muscles

You can always swap out some of the liquids suggested below for more personalized options.

Remember that bone broth for runners can also be a great source of electrolytes, like sodium, as well as collagen and other micronutrients.

When it comes to electrolyte drinks for runners, you can drink before or after running – in fact, they are a great example of what to have after a marathon!

If you have a handheld water bottle or hydration pack, you can also drink them during your run.

man sipping water out of hydration backpack for running

What I love most about homemade electrolyte drinks is that you have a bit more flexibility to cater your drink to the key electrolytes that are sparse in your diet.

I know starting this on your own can be intimidating, though, so below we are sharing five of our favorite electrolyte drink recipes for runners and athletes.

Recipes for Electrolyte Drinks for Runners

When considering how to make your own electrolyte drink, you don’t just want to leisurely combine juices and salt.

You do want to consider the ratio, too, especially if you want to make it as effective as possible.

Electrolyte drinks typically consist of a 6-8% carbohydrate solution plus sodium and potassium—this composition is scientifically proven to hydrate effectively.

Various brands, such as Gatorade, Pedialyte, Powerade, and more embrace a solution like this.

green, purple and red electrolyte drinks

But if you can’t stand the taste of artificial sweeteners or drinks with too much added sugar, or if you’re just feeling adventurous, you can easily make your own homemade Gatorade sugar free version, or natural gatorade alternative.

In fact, diy electrolyte drinks can be pretty fun to make and taste.

One last thing: when you’re reading the nutrition facts of these drinks, don’t be alarmed that they all are fairly high in milligrams of sodium.

Your body needs sodium—it’s the most abundant electrolyte lost through sweat!

Unless you have been told otherwise by a health care practitioner to limit sodium or you have hypertension, high blood pressure or another chronic condition where you need to limit sodium, don’t let high salt levels deter you.

However, always check with your medical provider. This post is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, and is for informational purposes only.

So, here’s how to make electrolyte drinks at home.

Cherry Lemonade Electrolyte Drink

Tart cherry juice for runners has several benefits that we have covered time and time again.

It has been trending in the fitness world for enough time now that you’ve probably heard of it.

While it doesn’t boast high electrolyte levels on its own, tart cherry juice is known to increase performance and decrease soreness following training. It may also promote better sleep. 

tart cherry juice in clear glass with electrolytes

I also love using tart cherry juice in these tart cherry electrolyte gummies.

Lemonade packs in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C, which also help balance pH and boost the immune system.

Plus, the simple sugars in lemonade act as the carbohydrate solution that aids in quicker hydration, as mentioned above. 

Because this recipe is naturally low in salt, add ¼ teaspoon of salt to ensure that sodium and chloride needs are met.

Use any other lemon lime substitute if you’d like.

Recipe: 6 oz Tart Cherry Juice + 6 oz Lemonade + ¼ Teaspoon Salt

1 serving: 24 g carbohydrates, 586.3 mg sodium, 217.5 mg potassium

Apple Ginger Electrolyte Drink

Of course, you can make this drink any time of year, but this homemade electrolyte drink for runners gives some strong fall vibes.

I recommend diluting the apple juice with water in a 1:1 ratio in order to reach that goal of a 6-8% carbohydrate blend.

However, if you don’t like the taste when diluted, or if you have trouble eating enough carbohydrates, you could use 8-12 oz apple juice and omit the water altogether.

This will naturally increase the carbohydrates.

Nutrition of this homemade electrolyte drink:

  • Apple juice is rich in potassium and magnesium as well as polyphenols, which protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. Especially after exercise, combatting oxidative stress and inflammation is key.
  • Apple juice also contains simple carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores quickly, because that is the point of post workout nutrition!
  • Ginger enhances the flavor of this drink times a million, plus it eases digestion, fights inflammation, and as a result, minimizes joint pain.

Because of that, many athletes have had success with using ginger to reduce symptoms of runners stomach and runners belly. 

Ginger juice may seem like a niche ingredient, but most grocery stores carry it—just look with the refrigerated smoothies and kombucha.

If you can’t find it, and you own a juicer, by all means, juice your own!

homemade electrolyte drink with apple and ginger

Recipe: 6 oz Apple Juice + 6 oz Water + 1 Tablespoon Ginger Juice + ¼ Teaspoon Salt

1 serving: 25 g carbohydrates, 601.2 mg sodium, 195 mg potassium

Cranberry Orange Drink

If you’re a runner and have a hard time meeting your carbohydrate needs, this one is for you.

It doesn’t necessarily fall into that 6-8% carbohydrate ratio, but it’s another option for quick liquid hydration. It’s tasty and refreshing and great for those salty sweaters.  

liquids to make homemade cranberry orange drink

If you’re going on a long run and need an electrolyte drink that can also act as fuel, this would be a great choice to pair with food before a long run.

It could also be great as a recovery drink for runners. Just add some protein alongside!

Here’s what we like nutritionally:

  • Orange juice has about the same amount of potassium as a banana. Even more so, it also contains calcium and magnesium, and obviously, quick digesting carbs for recovery.
  • Cranberry juice doesn’t have any direct exercise benefits, but it’s awesome for gut health. Cranberry juice is known to prevent UTIs, balance healthy bacteria, and benefit digestive health in general. Especially if you’re a runner, jostling from exercise can upset the gut, so cranberry juice can help calm it back down. You could also swap the cranberry juice for tart cherry juice.

Honey and salt are both supplementary here—honey for more simple carbohydrates, and salt for sodium.

If you need those nutrients, add them! I encourage it, but taking these out is an easy way to modify this electrolyte drink for runners. 

Recipe: 8 oz Orange Juice + 4 oz Cranberry Juice + 1 Tablespoon Honey + ¼ Teaspoon Salt

1 serving: 58 g carbohydrates, 579 mg sodium, 558.3 mg potassium

Coconut Lime Electrolyte Drink

This homemade sports drink for runners is a fun twist on your typical coconut water. 

Let’s review some nutrition points in this coconut water electrolyte drink:

  • Coconut water typically packs in potassium, calcium and magnesium. Depending on the brand, you may also find sufficient sodium, although most brands do not have enough sodium.
  • Lime juice packs in vitamin C for immunity and antioxidants to combat that oxidative damage we talked about earlier, which is increased after exercise. It also helps with collagen absorption.

Keep an eye out on the coconut water you purchase, and if you need to add a 1/8 tsp of sodium, do it!

coconut lime sports drink for runners

For example, if you like this coconut water, there is pretty much zero sodium in it, so add accordingly!

Here’s one with nearly 110 mg of sodium per 12 oz, the highest I could find.

Do you have to add honey? Some coconut water comes sweetened, so take a peek at the label before you decide to add honey or not.

If you’re looking for a fun twist, many brands carry flavored coconut water, like pineapple flavor! Experiment with different flavors to make this sports drink into the mocktail you’ve always dreamed about.

Recipe: 11 oz Coconut Water + 1 oz Lime Juice + 1 Tablespoon Honey

1 serving (before adding 1/8 tsp salt): 35 g carbohydrates, 56 mg sodium, 648.9 mg potassium

1 serving (with 1/8 tsp salt): 35 g carbohydrates, 343.5 mg sodium, 648.9 mg potassium 

Watermelon Lemonade Electrolyte Drink

This watermelon drink is a runner favorite and so refreshing. 

Watermelon lemonade is a little different because you start with solid foods and blend them all together to make your homemade sports drink.

If you’re not a huge fan of texture, you can drain the watermelon mixture after blending it, or you can also add ice and turn it into a slushie.

The perfect drink to help get you through this heat wave.

Homemade watermelon lemonade drink

Let’s talk nutrition of this watermelon electrolyte drink:

  • Watermelon contains potassium and magnesium, as well as L-citrulline, an amino acid that enhances oxygen transport and performance.
  • Lemon juice also has potassium and magnesium, plus calcium and vitamin C to balance pH and boost the immune system. Like other drinks, this is naturally low in sodium, so 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of salt will even out the electrolytes.
  • Citrulline can also help to reduce muscle soreness in athletes after intense workouts. This recipe combines the powerful antioxidants and nutrient content of watermelon, with electrolytes from coconut water and salt for a ‘natural’ sports drink for runners.

Recipe: 2 Cups Watermelon (Cubed) + 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice + ¼ Teaspoon Salt

1 serving: 24 g carbohydrates, 578.1 mg sodium, 359.5 mg potassium

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References:

  1. Sawka MN, Montain SJ, Latzka WA. Hydration effects on thermoregulation and performance in the heat. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2001 Apr;128(4):679-90. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(01)00274-4. PMID: 11282312.
  2. Von Duvillard SP, Braun WA, Markofski M, Beneke R, Leithäuser R. Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition. 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):651-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.011. PMID: 15212747.
  3. Zhao S, Liu H, Gu L. American cranberries and health benefits – an evolving story of 25 years. J Sci Food Agric. 2020 Nov;100(14):5111-5116. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.8882. Epub 2018 Feb 20. PMID: 29315597.
  4. Martínez-Sánchez A, Alacid F, Rubio-Arias JA, Fernández-Lobato B, Ramos-Campo DJ, Aguayo E. Consumption of Watermelon Juice Enriched in l-Citrulline and Pomegranate Ellagitannins Enhanced Metabolism during Physical Exercise. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 Jun 7;65(22):4395-4404. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b00586. Epub 2017 May 26. PMID: 28513179.
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