Q: Do I really need to drink electrolytes after working out?
A: It depends on the duration and intensity of your workout, but most people's regular workouts aren't intense enough to need electrolytes immediately after exercise. So for most of us, those pricey coconut waters at the gym are more ceremonious than they are necessary. Gatorade, the drink that pioneered the trend, was originally developed at the University of Florida to replenish fluid and electrolyte loss in football players doing two-a-day training sessions in the Florida heat. This is a much different scenario than someone finishing up a 45-minute yoga class after a day at the office.
If you exercise for less than an hour:
As a general rule of thumb, you don't need to worry about replenishing fluid or electrolyte stores for workouts under an hour. One caveat, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, is if you are exercising in a hot environment (a Bikram yoga class, for example) and you lose more than 2 percent of your body weight (compare pre- and post-exercise body weights, minus sweaty clothes). In that case, rehydrating with an electrolyte-containing drink like coconut water or Gatorade will be useful for maintaining performance. Otherwise, adding electrolytes during or right after your training will not provide any additional benefit.
If you exercise for over an hour:
If your training sessions do last longer than 60 minutes and you tend to sweat a lot, you can find out how much fluid you are losing and the level of replenishment you need after exercise by using the Fluid Loss calculator from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
An easier way to replenish fluids:
There is not a special post-workout window to replenish any electrolytes lost via sweat during exercise. Instead, you can start to replenish them with your first meal following exercise. The American College of Sport Medicine states that when meals are consumed after exercise, adequate amounts of electrolytes are present. Translation: You don’t need to down a Gatorade or Propel to restore your electrolyte levels—just make sure to include these nutrients are present in your post-exercise meal:
Magnesium: Find it in dark leafy green vegetables and nuts, especially almonds, spinach, and cashews.
Sodium: Good sources include table salt or preserved foods—but don’t overdo it on the sodium, which can have negative health consequences.
Potassium: Focus on fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes are all great sources of potassium.
Chloride: This nutrient is found in most foods but in higher amounts in table salt, tomatoes, celery, and lettuce.
Have a glass of water with your meal, and you will be repleted and ready to go—without a fancy drink.