How to Rehydrate Quickly: Comparing Electrolyte Drinks

Whether you’re a busy mom who has a hard time prioritizing fluid intake, or experiencing nausea and vomiting from the stomach flu – you might be wondering how to rehydrate quickly. 

There are many electrolyte beverages and sports drinks out there, but understanding which one to choose can be confusing. What should you be looking for, and why? The truth is, different situations may call for one product over the other. 

A glass of water with lemon slices in it for how to rehydrate quickly main header image.

In this ultimate guide for rehydration, we will discuss signs of dehydration and compare different electrolyte beverages for optimal fluid absorption to determine how exactly you should rehydrate for your unique situation.

Understanding Dehydration

Dehydration is defined as a condition caused by the loss of too much water from the body. The causes of dehydration could include inadequate oral fluid intake and/or excessive fluid loss by diarrhea, vomiting, significant blood loss volume, chronic illnesses, or excessive sweating from exercise or hot weather. 

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

Early signs of dehydration include dry mouth and eyes, excessive thirst, light-headedness, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, and dark urine with a strong odor. 

More severe signs are confusion, rapid breathing, seizures, decreased kidney function, a rapid pulse, and significantly decreased urine output. 

Babies, young children, older adults, and people who are ill are most at risk for dehydration. 

Ensuring Adequate Fluid Intake

On average, a healthy adult requires about 30-40 ml/kg per day of fluid to maintain adequate fluid balance. For a 150 pound woman, that equates to 2,045-2,727 ml of fluid per day. 

However, this doesn’t mean you have to be meeting your fluid needs through water alone. Many of the foods we at on a daily basis contain water to help us meet our fluid needs.

If you’re a healthy individual without the need for electrolyte replacement, consuming foods high in water while drinking water itself is your best bet. 

The Role of Glucose and Electrolytes to Rehydrate Quickly

Electrolytes, specifically sodium, potassium, and chloride, help maintain the body’s fluid balance. These electrolytes can be lost through excessive loose stools, sweating, and vomiting. 

Sodium is an electrolyte that is of particular importance when striving to rehydrate quickly because it significantly improves fluid retention (1). Therefore, consuming foods or fluids with salt are particularly helpful after significant electrolyte losses have occurred (2). 

Glucose, a type of carbohydrate, also plays a role in helping our cells absorb water and sodium faster (3). 

That’s why we often see glucose, sodium and potassium in oral rehydration or sports drinks.

An infographic which shows how glucose, sodium and potassium work together to help us rehydrate quickly.

Oral Rehydration Solutions VS. Electrolyte Drinks For Rehydration

Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS)

Oral rehydration solutions were developed 40 years ago as a gold standard to optimize fluid absorption. There must be a specific amount of glucose and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) in order to be classified as an oral rehydration solution.

These solutions have been proven by the World Health Organization to help maximize fluid absorption in the gastrointestinal tract by the sodium-glucose cotransport system and an osmolality level which helps to optimize fluid absorption. Quite a few products advertise that they are rehydration solutions, however,  a 2019 study concluded that most products on the market today don’t meet the recommended osmolality. 

That being said, products on the market today are still beneficial for their glucose and electrolyte content. They can be particularly helpful if you suspect dehydration, especially when experiencing acute diarrhea (4). 

The use of these solutions at home can help prevent visits to the emergency room (5), and they’re safe for children! Use with caution if you have diabetes, kidney disease, or heart failure. Consulting a medical professional prior to consumption may be beneficial as well. 

Sports Drinks or Flavored Water with Electrolytes

So what’s the difference between oral rehydration solutions and sports drinks, such as Gatorade? Flavored waters with electrolytes or sports drinks typically contain glucose and electrolytes in smaller amounts than an oral rehydration solution. 

Depending on the electrolyte content, sports drinks may not replenish fluid losses quite as fast as an oral rehydration solution – but might be ideal in moderate losses through sweat or post-exercise. If you compare the sports or electrolyte drinks below, you will see many do not contain glucose (the nutrition label shows 0 grams of carbohydrate or sugar). 

You might also notice that some are much higher in sodium than the oral rehydration solutions.

Comparing Oral Rehydration Solutions to Rehydrate Quickly

This post does contain Amazon affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I receive a small compensation if a purchase is made.

Pedialyte Electrolyte Powder Packets
One packet provides 30 calories per packet, with 240mg sodium, 180mg potassium, 290mg chloride and 6g added sugars.

Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier
One packet contains 45 calories, 500mg sodium, 370mg potassium, and 11g added sugars. Liquid IV also contains additional B vitamin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A.

Drip Drop Hydration
A stick has 45 calories, 330mg sodium, 185mg potassium, and 7g added sugars.

Pedialyte Advanced Care Plus
12 ounces supplies 35 calories, 490mg sodium, 280mg potassium, 7g added sugars, 630mg chloride plus zinc.

Comparing Sports Drinks, Flavored Water and Electrolyte Powders

Gatorade Fit Healthy Real Hydration Drink
One bottle contains 10 calories, 230mg sodium, 60mg potassium, 0g added sugars.

Propel Kiwi Sports Water
One bottle contains 0 calories, 230mg sodium, 0mg potassium, 0g added sugars.

The number one best-selling sports drink on Amazon, one bottle contains 20 calories, 40mg sodium, 700mg potassium, 0g added sugars with additional vitamins and minerals.

Vita Coco Coconut Water
One container contains 60 calories, 50mg sodium, 646mg potassium, 1g added sugars.

Redmond ReLyte Electrolyte Mix Powder
1 scoop provides 810mg sodium, 400mg potassium, 1280mg chloride, 0g sugar, with magnesium and calcium.

Gatorade Classic Thirst Quencher
One bottle contains 80 calories, 160mg sodium, 50mg potassium, and 21g added sugars.

Nuun Sport Hydration Powder
One pack has 10 calories, 300 mg sodium, 150mg potassium, and 1g added sugars, as well as magnesium and calcium

LMNT Zero-Sugar Electrolyte Powder Citrus Salt
One stick is 10 calories, 1000mg sodium, 200mg potassium, 0g added sugars.

Other Remedies to Rehydrate Quickly

Below is a list of foods and beverages with a high water content for rehydration. 

  • Popsicles
  • Gelatin
  • Tea
  • Fruit Juice
  • Broth based soups
  • Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, peaches, apples
  • Vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, celery
  • Milk and yogurt
Infographic of foods with high water content for how to rehydrate quickly.

Post-Exercise Hydration

Wondering how to rehydrate quickly post-exercise? Most experts recommend “normal” drinking and eating practices, like water and a well-balanced meal. However, the ideal beverage composition contains carbohydrate, milk protein and sodium. With rigorous training, sodium supplements may be needed due to excessive sweating (6). 

Let’s Summarize How to Rehydrate Quickly

Choosing an oral rehydration solution will rehydrate you the fastest due to the higher amounts of glucose, sodium and potassium. However, it is often recommended to consume these products with significant electrolyte losses.

They can be very helpful when recovering from an illness like the stomach flu, or when signs and symptoms of dehydration are present – but they’re not really needed on a daily basis. 

Look for labels which state the formulation is based on the WHO rehydration solution, or have clinically proven studies that state they rehydrate faster (like Pedialyte). You can even opt to make your own ORS at home with a quick google search.

Sports drinks and electrolyte flavored waters can be beneficial in rehydrating quickly and might be more ideal to drink on a daily basis, or with moderate illness or fluid losses. However, be aware that some have a very high sodium content- and those specific ones should be used with high sodium losses only. 

*This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I receive a small compensation when a purchase is made.

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