In my youth, I handed over early mornings to the predawn dread of jumping into the pool for swim practice. After the dread, though, I loved every minute of the two hours spent moving my body through the water. Throughout this competitive-sport time of my life, I recall grape-flavored, rehydration sports drinks with fondness. But after recently exploring the label on these bottles, I found all sorts of suspect ingredients in there.
First up, let’s decode the electrolyte buzz. Electrolytes are mineral salts that enter our system through food and drinks and are then dissolved by fluids in our bodies. The most common electrolyte-forming minerals are sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate and potassium. Once absorbed into the many fluids of the body, electrolytes carry a positive or negative ionic charge. These charges are essential for our nerve, muscle and heart cells (and others), where they are used to maintain voltage across cell membranes and carry nerve impulses and muscle contractions across these membranes and to other cells. Electrolytes also help regulate fluid levels and maintain fluid balance in various areas of the body.
There are lots of great hydration options out there now, but making our own electrolyte-rich beverages is a simple task that can involve what’s already in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelf. Whether you prefer making impromptu combinations of the following list of power hydrators or using actual drink recipes, all will help keep you hydrated and supplied with much-needed minerals.
Coconut water is packed with potassium and other minerals. Enjoy a salty-sweet version with the recipe below, or add it to beverages, smoothies and soups in place of some, or all, of the water.
Fermented pickle and kraut brines are another great resource for hidden electrolytes. During my years of teaching food preservation classes—some of which are five-hour workshops—I began tipping the pickle jar to balance the energy expended and on-my-feet time. Fermented foods are packed with minerals and typically, sea salt is the primary vehicle for transforming ordinary veggies and fruits into acidified nutritional powerhouses. For a perfectly pickle-y pick-me-up, I dilute my brine remainders using a 1:4 or 1:5 brine-to-water ratio. Many of the artisan pickle and kraut brands sell stand-alone kraut or pickle shots and dilution is not required, but the standard shot of straight-up brine is a bit more intense than I personally care to sip.
Mineral-rich sea salt is exactly what the hydration doctor ordered. It may seem counterintuitive to add salt to beverages when looking to hydrate, but the minerals found in good sea salt (think hints of gray or pink color and moist crumb) are exactly what our bodies are looking for. Highly refined salts (even sea salts) don’t offer up the ancient traces of the sea and all the minerals and plant life that came with it, so invest in a small stash of a Celtic sea salt or other traditionally harvested salt from around the world.
Whey is another nutrient-dense and hydrating addition that might already be on the refrigerator shelf in one form or another. Beyond supplying the multiple benefits of proteins, B-vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, immunity-supporting compounds and probiotics, whey is also mineral-rich—offering up a fine balance of potassium, iron and zinc. If making yogurt at home is not yet a part of your weekly routine, straining store-bought yogurt (labeled with as few additives as possible) is a great way to end up with whey for drinks.
Sweeten these tart and tangy drinks with sweeteners that don’t work against the goal of hydration. Natural sweeteners, such as raw honey and pure stevia powder, are my favorite ways to brighten up a tart drink. Blackstrap molasses is loaded with minerals, but the flavor it imparts is overpowering and heavy, so I rarely pick this one as an electrolyte drink sweetener. Instead, I save it for hot cocoa or oatmeal where other ingredients help to balance the flavor.
Fresh-squeezed citrus juices contain enzymes, vitamins and sugars that our bodies digest easily and that can add some sweetness and balance to an electrolyte drink. Other pure fruit juices can also serve as sweeteners to offset tartness.
Enjoy and improvise on these drink recipes. I’m always experimenting with splashes of whatever is in the fridge—even the experiments that could taste better are pretty easy to guzzle down without waste. Once made, each of these recipes will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
By Kate Payne • Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo