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Homebrewed electrolyte drinks

February 25, 2010

Endurance athletes and those who recreate in some long distance activity know that adequate hydration is the only way to stay happy, regardless of whether you’re trying to be hard core or not.  What has taken me a couple of years to figure out is that exactly what you drink is important.  All sorts of sports drinks make various claims about electrolytes, and its true that dissolved ions of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (in that order) play an important part in how your body functions.  I’m no physiologist, so won’t be going into the cellular biochemistry.

At moderate levels of activity, just drinking water when you’re thirsty is fine, since your body has stores of those key substances hanging around.  If, however, you sweat a lot due to either the temperature or duration of your activity, drinking plain old water may keep you hydrated, but over time, the electrolyte concentration of your blood will drop, your body will operate less well, and you’ll feel crappy.

Story #1
Two years ago I went out for a 15 mile run with water in my Camelbak.  The weather was pleasant and I felt fine.  The last two miles were a bit hard, but given that it was my longest run of the season, it felt normal.  A half hour after getting home I started to feel weak.  Dinner tasted lousy and I began to feel nauseous.  I puked.  I drank some Gatorade and went to bed.  Only by morning did I feel okay.

Story #2
Last summer while on a two and a half day 360 mile ride on the Adventure Cycling Association’s Green Mountain Loop I was resupplying food and drink at general stores along the way.  Vermont has plenty of general stores, so there really isn’t any need to carry a whole lot.  On day 2, I started out from Island Pond feeling fine, enjoying a pile of orange juice, bananas, yogurt, and muffins for breakfast.  It was pretty warm out, so I bought two or three bottles of Gatorade every 30-40 miles, and occasionally chocolate milk.  My “quality of life” steadily decreased the entire day until I was somewhere near Colchester, and on a whim drank two cans of V-8 juice.  Within five minutes the veil of fog had lifted and I could ride.  Something it those cans was magic for me, and it probably wasn’t the celery.  8 ounces of V8 juice has 420mg sodium and 470mg potassium.  Two cans has 1260mg sodium and 1410mg potassium.

My long love of pickles, olives, chips, and pretzels all came to have new meaning.  When Lexi and I were on the PCT, we drank upwards of 10 quarts of straight water a day, but also ate ungodly quantities of Chex Mix Bold Party Blend, and other nutritionally questionable foods that happen to contain loads of salt.  I had had good results on century rides with Camelbak Elixir, and crappy results with Gatorade and water.  The difference: sodium, aka salt, NaCl.  Here began my more nerdy love of salt.

The big difference between Elixir and Gatorade is sodium content.  I’ve read in Joe Friel’s Ironman Triathlon training book that some athletes burn through sodium at 1000mg per hour, some at zero.  Well clearly 100mg wasn’t enough for me.  The problem was that at my rate of consumption, I was going to be spending a lot of money on sports drinks unless I came up with an alternative.  I found the best starting point for homebrewing your own electrolyte drink to be Infinit Nutrition.  Go through the online survey and answer questions about your style and level of activity.  It will generate a drink mix formulated specifically for you!  Pretty cool, but also a bit pricey.  On the up side, its really quite easy to reverse engineer the nutritional contents of their recommended mix.  So I did.

Note that I hate coffee, am unsure about caffeine not in chocolate, think any drink containing protein powder is disgusting, and love salt.

Thanks to Google, a few useful conversions:
1t. salt = 2400mg sodium (Na)
1t. Nu-Salt = 3180mg potassium (K), easily found in any large grocery store
1t. NOW powdered Calcium Gluconate = 320mg calcium (Ca)
1t. NOW powdered Magnesium Citrate = 450mg magnesium (Mg)

I bought bottles of the NOW powders from a random internet site, the Nu-Salt and generic lemonade mix from the local grocery store, and I was all set.  Sure, I could get picky about the sugar blend in the cheapo lemonade mix, but I don’t really care.  The proof is that since making this stuff my stock sports drink, I’ve felt great.  No bonk, and its cheap.  I save my money for really good organic chocolate milk.

Does this stuff taste salty?  Yes.  However, I have an untested hypothesis that your tolerance for drink saltiness is proportional to your body’s consumption of salt.  Perhaps it tastes just right when you get the formula just right, just right for you.  Also note that what tastes salty is not the Sodium (Na) part of salt, but the Chloride (Cl) part.  That’s why folks on low-sodium diets use sodium-free “salt” like Nu-Salt, which is Potassium Chloride.  It does taste a bit different, though you probably wouldn’t notice a significant difference in something like an electrolyte drink.  However, you probably won’t see bartenders shifting away from regular salt for margaritas anytime soon.  Oddly enough, as much as I love salt, I hate it on margaritas…I like ’em frozen, no salt.

All the ingredients for my homebrewed electrolyte drink, and small ziplock bags each with 3L worth. The measuring activity is best done in batches.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. cyclesafe permalink
    March 6, 2010 8:51 AM

    Useful. Thank you for posting.

    • Yakinodo permalink
      July 17, 2010 7:03 PM

      Thanks for the info…I am going to give this a spin…

  2. Morgan permalink
    August 21, 2012 10:58 AM

    Hi Dave
    Just went thru similar calculations, I used the concentration in Pedialyte as a basis for the Na and K concentration and came up with this:
    2151mg LoSalt + 2462mg sea salt =
    na_mg[1035.153] k_mg[779.932] mg_mg[90.564] ca_mg[29.039],

    so ~ 1 teaspoon of mixture / liter

    I think I’ll pick up some Ca gluconate, thanks for the posting this! Good job.

  3. Chris permalink
    October 1, 2015 11:34 AM

    Good job. Thank you!

  4. Becka permalink
    May 26, 2016 3:28 PM

    Dave, I am sharing this with my other bikepacking friends, now, almost 5 years after your death. Thinking of you, and so pleased that even now we are connected. I will get Lexi bikepacking one of these days. ❤ Becka

  5. April 13, 2017 2:44 AM

    Altimate article post by you in this blog. You give a nice thing. Thank you for such a nice article. Every word of this blog helps me to give detail to me. Electrolyte Hydration Drink Packets

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