When athletes are working out, they’re losing sweat and expending energy. The purpose of a “sports drink” is to replace that liquid as well as other necessary electrolytes and carbs to keep the athlete’s energy up as they continue to exert themselves (or recover). Even just being out in the heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke if you aren’t careful to replenish fluids and electrolytes.
So often, these premade drinks they reach for are full of added ingredients, flavorings, and artificial sweeteners that I avoid! They can also be quite expensive when you buy them for every practice. This homemade electrolyte drink will help you save money while also eating foods that fuel you during a workout.
To develop a recipe for a natural electrolyte sports drink, I did my best to achieve the proper proportions of needed electrolytes as well as mimic the fun taste of the flavor of Gatorade that my husband enjoys. It irks me when he (a) spends $1+ a bottle on junk and (b) drinks the junk. I try to jump in when I know he’s going somewhere that he’ll want Gatorade and hand him our homemade electrolyte drink instead.
I’m going to show you a lot of the math I did to figure out how to make a homemade electrolyte drink, so put your thinking caps on and I’ll grab my chalk. (I know, that dates me. I actually had a whiteboard when I taught but still think of chalkboards as the standard.) Then we’ll make our own version!
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Is Gatorade Healthy?
Gatorade drinks (and any other electrolyte-replacing sports drink, as well as drinks designed to rehydrate and heal during a bout of diarrhea or childhood illnesses) contain five major components:
- water (for hydration, obviously)
- sugars (for energy/carbs)
- citric acid and sodium citrate (both preservatives, also sodium citrate in some forms has been shown to increase running performance1 – but it also chelates calcium, a necessary electrolyte that needs to be replaced!)
- sea salt (to replace the electrolyte sodium)
- monopotassium phosphate (the chosen form of potassium, another essential electrolyte)
Other than the preservatives (which wouldn’t be necessary in a homemade version), that seems alright. But then you consider the added artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners in most electrolyte drinks and they don’t seem so healthy anymore.
Of course, dehydration which can lead to heat exhaustion and even heatstroke if you’re also getting overheated isn’t healthy either.
If we just take the important components of an electrolyte drink, we can easily make it at home without all the added nasties! Ready for some math to figure out the correct proportions of all the ingredients to balance electrolytes?
Make a Homemade Electrolyte Drink with Real Food
In fact, we can do one better and make an electrolyte drink with real food. We first look at the World Health Organization’s recipe for a rehydration drink2, which serves a very similar purpose for dehydrated individuals: replace electrolytes, give energy, hydrate the body.
- sodium chloride
- trisodium citrate
- potassium chloride
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How Much Sugar is in Gatorade?
Regular Gatorade has a lot of sugar. Check this out:
- Gatorade = 21 grams of sugars in 12 ounces (over 5 teaspoons sugar)
- 64 ounces / 12 ounces = 5.33 (how many 12 ounce bottles fit in a half-gallon)
- 21 grams of sugar x 5.33 = 112 grams of sugars in a half-gallon of Gatorade
- 1 teaspoon sugar = 4 grams
- 112 / 4 = 28
- **28 teaspoons of sugar in a half-gallon Gatorade**
(I chose a half-gallon for comparison’s sake since that’s what this homemade sports drink recipe will make.)
The idea behind the sugar (carbohydrates) is to give energy to the athlete. I wonder how much athletes really need to keep their energy up though.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended rehydration recipes range from 6-8 teaspoons of sugar per liter (approximately 1.2-1.6 teaspoons per cup), or 13.5 grams anhydrous glucose per liter. Wikipedia lists it at 2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) per quart, or 1.5 teaspoons per cup.
x 8 cups in a half-gallon = 9.6-12.8 teaspoons total sugar recommended per half-gallon
x 4 grams sugar in a teaspoon = 38.4-51.2 grams of sugar recommended per half-gallon rehydration electrolyte drink (according to what a dehydrated person needs to perk up)
So the first lesson, which is not surprising, is that commercial Gatorade is far sweeter than it needs to be to give someone appropriate carbs for energy purposes – by more than TWICE as much!
The Best Sweetener for Homemade Electrolyte Drinks
To make a natural electrolyte replacement that is also good for athletes to replenish their energy in the form of carbohydrates, we’d want approximately 40-50 grams of sugar, which is 10-12 teaspoons (a scant 4 tablespoons) in a half-gallon.
I’d rather use honey, which is a much better carbohydrate energy source because honey contains different natural sugars – fructose (which makes up about 40%), glucose, maltose, and a very small amount of sucrose. Each of these sugars tends to be absorbed into the bloodstream at a slightly different rate instead of all at once.
Besides that, there are other benefits to honey, especially natural raw honey, that white sugar certainly does not share. It still increases your glycemic index, however, so for diabetics it is no better than sugar (or not enough to make a marked difference).
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To use honey, we do a little more math to figure out how much to use:
Honey = 16 grams of sugar in a tablespoon (about 5 1/3 grams per teaspoon vs 4 grams for sugar)
We want between 40-50 grams of sugars in our drink, a little lower for people who are just replacing sweat, I’d think, and higher for hardcore athletes in training (and maybe children). So that’s between 2-3 tablespoons of honey for a half-gallon.
RELATED: The Health Benefits of Sweating
That amount is a good “sweet” for some, but considering your average American is expecting double that, we can make up the sweet without extra unnecessary carbs with a little stevia.
Gatorade happens to have a “low calorie” version of the sports drink called G2. Guess how many carbs (sugars) it has? 40 grams per half-gallon, exactly what it should have. The remainder of the “sweet” is made up of Sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium, another artificial sweetener i.e. poison. We can do better than that!
Rehydrating with Electrolyte Drinks When Sick
For a diabetic or someone who only needs to replace electrolytes, not carbs, such as a more medicinal use like during a bout of diarrhea, you could totally skip the honey and double the stevia, more to taste if necessary. If you have the unrefined brown stevia concentrate like in the picture, you need at least double the stevia or a half teaspoon total for a half-gallon.
My husband thought that ratio was just perfect, although some may want a bit more. That’s the wonderful thing about sweetening beverages with stevia; you can always add a few drops to an individual serving or taste and improve the whole batch (can’t do that with muffins, for example).
For children who are ill, I might still keep the honey in, especially if you have raw honey, for its antibacterial, immune-boosting, and upper respiratory supporting properties and because kids need carbs for energy, even if they’re not expending as much because they are sick. Pedialyte does include the type of sugar called dextrose (refined corn sugars, ick), which is thought to be easily digested, improve the taste, and increase the absorption of water and sodium.3
RELATED: Avoiding dehydration in children.
Always check in with your healthcare practitioner to make sure you and your loved ones are getting the nutrients needed during illness.
How Many Electrolytes do We Need?
“Electrolytes are minerals that use electric charges in the body to produce reactions such as muscle contraction, nerve movement, and a regular heartbeat.”4
Let’s take them one at a time:
Salt / Sodium
- Gatorade = 13.75 mg/ oz.
- WHO rehydration recipe = ~77 mg / oz. + baking soda usually recommended in the same ratio I use (technically sodium is measured as an osmolarity of 245 mmol/L, my first chance to use high school chemistry in 15 years…and heck if I can remember how to figure molarity.)
- Our recipe = ~75-80 milligrams/oz. from salt and 4.8 mg/oz. from baking soda
Baking soda is included because it’s a different kind of salt than table salt (sodium chloride) and our bodies need both kinds:
Strenuous exercise leads to the buildup of lactic acid with associated muscle pain and fatigue. The longer an athlete can delay lactic acid buildup, the better his performance, especially in situations that require endurance. That’s exactly what drinking baking soda does for athletes. Baking soda has been found to be effective in boosting multiple sprint performances by neutralizing lactic acid buildup, thereby delaying muscle pain and fatigue.5
A rough guide to the amount of salt is that the solution should taste no saltier than tears. The sports drink will taste too salty if your body doesn’t need the salt. When you are genuinely depleted, it should taste just right (I love that God made our bodies so well that they can teach us what we need!).
Too much baking soda – like massive amounts – can be dangerous for children, but it would be highly unlikely that someone could overdose on baking soda by drinking homemade electrolyte drinks.
Folks with high blood pressure need to be careful of sodium intake overall, so it might be a good idea to check with your doctor if you have that condition. “Lite salt” could be a safe substitute in a homemade recipe – but those with high blood pressure really should check with their doctor before drinking the commercial sports drinks, too, as they have a high sodium content as well. How many people drink Gatorade as a random “I’m thirsty” drink when they haven’t expended enough energy to need to replace electrolytes and sodium? It’s really not a good idea.
- Gatorade = 3.75 mg. / oz.
- WHO rehydration recipe = might be up to 44 mg / oz. (Wiki says it uses 1.5 g/L; a liter is 4.22 cups = 33.76 ounces, 1.5 g / 33.76 ounces * 1000 = 44.43 mg / oz.)
- Our recipe = just over 2 mg / oz. (lemon juice has 35 mg potassium per ounce; 35 x 4 oz. = 140 mg in a half gallon divided by 64 ounces = 2.18)
- One could add 1/8-1/4 tsp. Morton “lite salt” which is potassium chloride if potassium feels more important. Some WHO rehydration recipes list 1/4 tsp. salt substitute per liter for potassium (so about a scant 1/2 tsp. for our half-gallon batch).
- You could also add 1/2 tsp. of cream of tartar which is potassium bitartrate.
- If using orange juice, you’d have 3.5 mg. potassium/ounce (orange juice has 56 mg potassium per ounce)
Lemon juice even has enough potassium to treat kidney stones6 in place of potassium citrate, so I feel pretty confident that it can replace electrolytes. However, for serious rehydration, you couldn’t use enough lemon juice to equal the WHO recipe; that would make it so sour it would be undrinkable.
The orange juice version fares better on the potassium scale, but my husband really didn’t like that flavor (although my 8yo boy thought it was the bomb). It’s still not quite enough, so if potassium is a key factor for you, be sure to try the lite salt or cream of tartar.
Another option I’ve seen is potassium citrate, which is in Kool-aid type powders.
This electrolyte seems largely unaddressed in Gatorade and most of the homemade recipes I’ve seen, including the WHO version. The Real Salt I buy does have trace elements of magnesium, so please be sure to use whole, unrefined salt when making this recipe and at least you’ll get a little magnesium, as well as calcium and 60 other trace minerals, including silica, which may contribute to overall bone health.7
Magnesium is a very important mineral for overall health, so if you happen to have some on hand as an oral supplement, I’d include a serving in this recipe.
I’m really not sure if the WHO recipe includes calcium or not, but the sodium citrate in Gatorade chelates (removes) calcium from the body, so that seems awfully counter-productive.
Is there a Clean Pre-Made Electrolyte Drink?
For the exact proper balance of the 5 essential electrolytes needed to hydrate cells, sometimes you might not want to DIY. Redmond’s Re-Lyte mixes (in lemon-lime or mixed berry) fill the need perfectly, and they taste good. Some of my kids think they’re too salty, but that probably means their bodies need less salt. Mine needs a lot so I love the flavor!
Both flavors are sweetened with stevia leaf extract, the only zero-calorie sweetener I would even think of touching, and they even include coconut water powder with natural electrolyte balance.
For kids, I would still lean toward giving them the carbs in honey so that they are replenishing their energy. For us adults, we might not need that extra caloric energy! There are 50 20-ounce servings in each tub, so compare to more than 50 Gatorades since the volume on those bottles isn’t 20 ounces.Print
- Mix the and baking soda with water until dissolved. Some people heat the water to get it all perfectly dissolved; I just shake it up and call it good enough.
- Add the lemon juice, lime juice, and sweetener and shake well to combine. You may find that the honey is difficult to mix in; just keep trying, try a long knife to stir, and shake well before serving.
- Store refrigerated for up to a week.
I squeeze lime juice in bulk and freeze tablespoon-sized servings, then just add one cube to this mixture.
The larger amount of salt is closer to the WHO guidelines, but the 1/2 teaspoon is what tastes right. So adjust to taste and your level of need for electrolyte replacement versus just a yummy drink.
Another flavoring option is to use 1/2 c. orange juice and 2 Tbs. lemon juice in place of the lemon/lime mixture.
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 36
- Sugar: 9 g
- Sodium: 195 mg
- Fat: 0
- Saturated Fat: 0
- Unsaturated Fat: 0
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 9 g
- Fiber: 0
- Protein: 0
- Cholesterol: 0
Keywords: electrolyte, honey sweetened, hydration
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Notes for Making Homemade Gatorade:
- If you do use real lemons, you should be aware of the chemicals sprayed on citrus after picking. Make sure you buy organic or at least wash them well before juicing!
- You can make frozen concentrate cube (i.e. mix up with only about a 1/2 cup of water plus the other ingredients) and mix with a cup of water as it melts.
- I use a bottled organic lemon juice with zero added ingredients. It’s delicious, and so much easier than juicing my own lemons (which would be a decently big chore if you were making this regularly). I don’t recommend most bottled lemon juice though – check the ingredients and you’ll see why.
- You can use Beekeepers Naturals B.Chill Honey with CBD if you’re struggling to get back into a parasympathetic state after exercise and need help winding down.
- Stevia drops, for me, came out to about 35-40 drops per quarter teaspoon, but my friend Adrienne at Whole New Mom gets 44 drops in a teaspoon…so you might want to try it yourself to see how many drops are in a teaspoon to help you divide into single servings if necessary.
- I use NuNaturals stevia or Sweetleaf brands. Liquid stevia extract is less refined than the powder, although my husband prefers the powder.
More Workout Resources to Help You Fuel Your Body:
- Homemade protein drink
- High protein Quinoa oat bars
- Grain-free quinoa bars
- High protein snack ideas
- Real Food Weight Loss & Exercise series
- Oöpik, V., Saaremets, I., Medijainen, L., Karelson, K., Janson, T., & Timpmann, S. (2003). Effects of sodium citrate ingestion before exercise on endurance performance in well trained college runners. British journal of sports medicine, 37(6), 485–489. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.37.6.485
- Oral rehydration therapy. (2020, April 18). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_rehydration_therapy#Preparation
- Messina, H. (2019, December 24). What Ingredients Are in Pedialyte? Retrieved from https://healthfully.com/345895-what-ingredients-are-in-pedialyte.html
- Electrolytes in Lemons. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/512753-electrolytes-in-lemons/
- Kalmus, S. (2019, December 24). Is Sodium Bad For You? Retrieved from https://healthfully.com/518115-is-sodium-bad-for-you.html
- Aras, B., Kalfazade, N., Tuğcu, V., Kemahli, E., Ozbay, B., Polat, H., & Taşçi, A. I. (2008). Can lemon juice be an alternative to potassium citrate in the treatment of urinary calcium stones in patients with hypocitraturia? A prospective randomized study. Urological research, 36(6), 313–317. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00240-008-0152-6
- Jugdaohsingh R. (2007). Silicon and bone health. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 11(2), 99–110. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2658806/