Are Energy Bars, Gels and Electrolyte Replacers Essential for Athletes?

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You can find an abundant amount of electrolytes (electrically charged particles, most commonly known as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium) in "real foods"—including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy foods. These real foods are generally far less expensive electrolyte replacers.

Sodium enhances fluid retention and helps keep you hydrated better than plain water that goes in one end, out the other. Yet, sports drinks are actually low in sodium compared to what you consume in your meals. Many sodium replacers have far less sodium than you may think.

Athletes who sweat heavily might lose about 1,000 to 3,000 mg sodium in an hour of hard exercise. Here are options for replacing these sodium losses:

More: 10 Natural Alternatives to Energy Drinks

Commercial Sports Food


Type Sodium
Endurolytes (1 capsule)
40 mg
PowerBar Electrolytes
250 mg
Gatorade (8 oz)
110 mg
Gatorade Endurance (8 oz)
200 mg


Salty Foods


Type Sodium
Dill pickle spear
350 mg
Beef Jerky (1 oz)
600 mg
Salt (1/4 tsp)
200 mg
Bouillon cube, Herb-ox
1,100 mg

More: Do You Need More Sodium Before Your Workouts?

Replacing electrolytes is most important for athletes who sweat heavily for extended periods in the heat. This includes double sessions of pre-season football, as well as long-distance racing cyclists. 

Yet, these athletes often are able to ingest lots of sodium in the pre-, during and post-exercise food they consume in order to sustain that level of endurance. For example, the football player who has a high-sodium ham and cheese sandwich with mustard and dill pickles can bypass the Gatorade at lunch.

When you know you'll be exercising in hot weather, choose some salted foods (i.e., sprinkle salt on a omelet, pasta, or sweet potato) before you exercise in the heat. Getting a hefty dose of sodium into your body before you even start to exercise has been shown to retain fluid, delay the rate at which you might become dehydrated, and enhance endurance.

The Bottom Line

While sports foods have their time and place, make sure you actually need them before you spend your money on them. Not every runner needs to pay the price for pre-wrapped convenience.

More: 9 Foods to Fuel a 5K

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