Let’s face it — we are living in generation hydration, and the messaging is everywhere:
- “Dehydration is the #1 cause of daytime fatigue.”
- “You’re probably dehydrated RIGHT NOW!”
- And my personal favorite: “Hydrate or Die-drate!”
Back in the 90’s, we were told to drink at least 8 glasses of water everyday. Then the 2000s brought about a proliferation of electrolyte-infused sugar waters — Gatorade, Powerade, and others — endorsed by the biggest names in sports and touted as a “healthier” substitute to soda. Admittedly, we may have overdone it a smidge:
But as society became increasingly health-conscious (and syrupy orange and purple concoctions become less appealing), it was only a matter of time before the market became flooded with better ways to hydrate. Think smartwater® and smart water bottles. Next came an overabundance of flavored carbonated waters in retro-colored cans — La Croix, Bubly, Spindrift, etc. — and that pretty much brings us to date.
Looking ahead: the biggest innovation in hydration may not be a liquid at all, but rather powder supplements that you add to water. You may have seen the new breed of electrolyte packets from brands like Liquid IV, Nuun, and Hydrant, all of which are gaining popularity fast.
In this article, we’ll examine these top three electrolyte supplements and compare them head-to-head — Liquid IV vs Nuun vs Hydrant — to see which is best. We’ll also evaluate whether these powders actually work better than h2o alone. After all, our grandparents didn’t have such fancy additives, and they were healthy, right? Do we actually need an electrolyte boost as wellness gurus and beverage brands claim?
In short, yes — they can definitely help you stay more hydrated — but read on to learn why. And before we get too deep, let’s first cover the basics about electrolytes — what they are, their role in hydration and workout recovery, and who should use supplements. If you’re short on time and just want to see how the brands stack up, skip ahead to our head-to-head comparison.
First, what exactly is an electrolyte?
Most people these days assume more electrolytes are better, but few can explain what they are. Electrolytes are a specific group of minerals and ions that our body needs to:
- Regulate fluid levels and blood pressure
- Regulate muscle contraction, including heartbeat
- Maintain nervous system function
- Maintain the blood at a safe acidity of PH
Generally, we get them from our diet, and a small amount from tap water. But for anyone who works out, the major electrolytes that you should pay extra attention to are:
The electrolytes that play a more minor role that the average person should get from a healthy balanced diet include: zinc, iron, manganese, molybdenum, copper, and chromium. That said, most North Americans don’t consume enough potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, or iron — so we should keep an eye out for our own deficiency symptoms, and understand when supplements may be wise.
How does hydration work?
We all know that the body is made of mostly (more than 60%!) water. Water is required to metabolize our food, breathe oxygen, and pump blood, among many other bodily functions. But our water stores don’t work like a gas tank in your car, and the term “hydration” means much more than just the percent of your body that’s currently water.
For our bodies to perform at their peak, water is drawn in and out of tissues, the blood stream, and our organs via an intricate network. This movement takes place based on attraction and repulsion of charged electrolytes. There are also special transporter mechanisms built for moving specific electrolytes in and out via a concentration gradient in different areas of the body.
Remember back in science lab when you sprinkled salt into water to demonstrate how solids dissolve? This is the same principle. Salt gets evenly dispersed into the water because any areas of low concentration actively pull in salt due to the concentration gradient.
As a general rule, concentrated electrolytes will always move into more diluted areas. Therefore, water generally follows electrolytes, which help facilitate the flow of water in your body. This is what makes them such an important catalyst of hydration (and peak performance).
Do I need to take electrolyte supplements?
We know athletes take electrolytes when exercising or sweating profusely, especially if it is more than an hour, or under the hot sun. Electrolytes are also used to prevent muscle cramping after running or strenuous activity.
These imbalances are pretty common even for amateur athletes, but unfortunately deficiency symptoms can go beyond leg cramps and thirst. Dry mouth, dry skin, muscle weakness, stiff and achy joints, decreased or darkened urine, nausea, constipation, dizziness and fatigue are also signs.
Aside from cyclical imbalances, there are a few acute conditions that demand extra electrolyte intake all the time. No, I’m not talking about that post-wedding or new year’s day hangover 😉 but rather: chronic cases of diarrhea, chemotherapy, congestive heart failure, or severe blood pressure problems are all scenarios that require supplements to improve.
What you eat is also a factor, with ketogenic, paleo, or low-carb diets potentially requiring additional electrolytes due to rapid changes in metabolism. For these types of eaters, nutritionists typically recommend an additional 3-5g of salt, 1g of potassium, and 300mg of magnesium per day.
How do I know which electrolytes I need, and in what quantity?
As we’ve mentioned above, it mostly depends on your diet and exercise activity. In general, we sweat out a ton of sodium, so active folks need to consume 3-6 grams of sodium daily. A full day of outdoor activities on a hot day will put you more into the 6 gram range, and a good rule to follow is consume two extra grams of sodium for each hour of working out or pound of sweat (gross, I know!).
Athletes will also need an extra 20% (~400 mg) of magnesium per day, along with some potassium and calcium. And for the real nutrition nerds among us, there are a number of apps out there that approximate the quantity electrolytes you need based on your personal diet and activity levels.
While wearables and health tracker apps are extremely helpful, what they can’t do is understand your body’s aches, pains, genetic make ups, and personal preferences. Only you can do that, and it always helps to have more information.
What are the most important electrolytes to pay attention to?
Here’s a brief synopsis of the most important electrolytes and the role each plays in the body:
It’s clear from the list that all electrolytes are critical for a healthy existence. But one I’d like to point out especially for women is Magnesium. The body uses it for many functions, and you can’t have too much of it. Research links Magnesium deficiency to many serious ailments like anxiety & depression, high blood pressure, hypertension, hormone and sleep issues, and low energy. For women, magnesium is used to make certain hormones, leading many to temporary deficiencies at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
It’s also worth noting that maintaining proper electrolyte levels is key to regulating mood and a positive outlook. If you feel tired or down in the afternoon, a simple electrolyte boost can be a game changer. No wonder companies like Nuun, Liquid IV, and Hydrant are so focused on bringing their supplements to the masses, not just runners or extreme athletes. Read on to see how exactly what these three electrolyte brands offer and what sets them apart.
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Liquid IV vs Nuun vs Hydrant: Which new electrolyte supplement is best for you?
It’s time to get down to brass tax. How does one choose an electrolyte product from the various options on the market? We took a look at the top three brands — Liquid IV, Nuun, and Hydrant — and examined important factors such as composition, price per use, taste, convenience, and reported effectiveness for the average active person. Here’s a table with our findings:
Liquid IV vs Nuun vs Hydrant: Electrolyte Supplements Compared
|Costs||$1.25/ stick (16 g)||$0.70/ tablet||$1.25/ packet ($1.00 with monthly subscription)|
|Form||Powder sticks/td>||Tablet||Powder packet|
|Recommended daily dose||1 stick (16 g) into 16 oz water||1 tablet (5.5 g) into 16 oz water||1 packet (8 grams) into 16 oz water|
|Flavor options||5 flavors||27 flavors||5 flavors|
|Calories per serving||30 calories||15 calories||25 calories|
|Sugar per serving||11 grams||1-2 grams, Endurance: 15 grams||6 grams|
|Offers caffeinated option?||yes||yes||yes|
|Sodium per serving||500 mg||300 mg||260 mg|
|Safe for Pregnant Women||Basic sport flavors only||Basic sport flavors only||yes|
|How to Order|
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Now that you see how these three hydration supplements stack up, let’s discuss each to provide a bit more color on Hydrant, Nuun, and Liquid IV individually.
Liquid IV was originally designed as a hangover remedy (hence the B vitamins), but is now marketed for more general use as a “Hydration multiplier” using “breakthrough science of cellular transport technology”.
The main focus of Liquid IV is rapid, targeted hydration based on modern science. Their powder sticks contain over 100% of the daily recommended Vitamin C, along with B3, B5, B6, and B12, and its taste has been carefully crafted using a balance of cane sugar and stevia. If their standard flavor isn’t your cup of tea, they also offer other delicious flavors such as Passion fruit, Acai berry, and Lemon-Lime.
In general, people seem to LOVE the taste of Liquid IV’s electrolyte supplements:
That said, the only common complaints I’ve seen about Liquid IV supplements are about high sugar content and no return policy:
Potentially in response, Liquid IV released a “sleep” formula with much lower sugar than the original. It also contains Melatonin, a sedating herb valerian root, and the anti-anxiety supplement L-theanine.
They also offer a caffeinated version that contains both organic green tea extract and guayusa, a South American herb and coffee-substitute containing high amounts of antioxidants.
Overall, the majority of Amazon reviews from Liquid IV users report noticeable results for specific medical conditions. Doctors and nurses even recommend the product for migraines, post bariatric surgery, dark circles, dry skin, Crohn’s disease, and the dry mouth that comes with chemotherapy.
And what about for workout recovery? Well, it turns out that Liquid IV’s “cellular transport technology” simply means they’re using a rapid rehydration formula created for starving, dehydrated children in the third world.
Here’s how it works: One of the many ways that the body gets water to leave the stomach and start hydrating tissues in the body is called a Glucose transporter. This is a specialized little widget in the intestinal lining that pulls in water and electrolytes using glucose. It is only useful when conditions like severe diarrhea shut down the body’s other ways to pull water into the tissues. It also tastes the best, since glucose brings out flavor in beverages and covers up any vitamin ickiness.
Does it rehydrate you quickly? Yes. But as we mentioned before, some are turned off by the high sugar content.
Overall, Liquid IV offers a solid mix of electrolytes and vitamins, especially those B-Vitamins that provide an energy boost. It lacks the Magnesium we need for tired and sore muscles, and it has a high sugar content — too high (in my opinion) for the average active, health conscious person to justify drinking everyday. As the marketing suggests, it is good for health issues, both acute and chronic… so perhaps we should keep a few boxes in the medicine cabinet instead of the gym bag.
Cherry Limeade with Caffeine
Fresh Lime with Caffeine
Mango Orange with Caffeine
Nuun Immunity contains added Zinc, Calcium, and about 50% of your daily value for Vitamins A, D, and E. It also provides over 200% of the daily value for C. And living up to its name, immunity also contains immune-boosting botanicals Elderberry, Turmeric, and Echinacea.
Nuun “Rest” also has added botanicals, and less sodium than the original. The surprise is that it also contains tart cherry powder to help reduce inflammation post-workout. This is relatively cutting-edge in the exercise science world, and although it is usually given to professional athletes, anyone can benefit from its antiinflammatory effects. Rest also includes 6x as much magnesium as “Sport”, making it a solid choice for anyone recovering tired muscles. However, the feedback still overwhelmingly positive:
Nuun “Vitamin” contains vitamins A, C, D, and E, along with B6 and B9, but only 25% of our daily value. It is missing B12 (the choice for an energy boost), and they keep vitamin quantities low most likely to keep the flavor palatable.
For ultra-marathoners, there is also Nuun Endurance, which comes in powder form. Dubbed an “elite hydration mix,” this version comes in either canisters or packets of powder and boasts higher amounts of each electrolyte. Where the classic Nuun Sport has 150 mg potassium, endurance contains 200 mg. It also contains more carbohydrates and up to 15 grams of sugar per serving.
With plant-based sweeteners like Stevia and additives such as Avocado Oil on the label, Nuun bills itself as the “clean electrolyte” on the market. There aren’t any artificial colors either– beet powder is the only coloring additive. We can also rest assured that the caffeine in “Nuun Sport plus Caffeine” comes from organic Green Tea extract.
Nuun’s sugar content varies between flavors, where some contain Stevia and others use cane sugar. The company did reduce sodium and sugar in its formula recently, a switch that appears to have lost Nuun a few fans, according to Amazon reviews. However, the feedback still overwhelmingly positive:
Customers also seem to love the ease of carrying Nuun’s simple tube of tablets and how quickly they dissolve, adding to its overall convenience factor:
Much like Liquid IV, Hydrant’s focus is rapid hydration. It stands out from the pack as the only electrolyte supplement with added zinc (+20% of your daily value). But wait a second: if Zinc is only a seemingly minor electrolyte, why add it at all? Well, it turns out to be important for hydration, and anyone deficient in Zinc will have a hard time transporting electrolytes, water, and glucose throughout their bodies. In other words, Zinc helps other electrolytes be effective.
With deficiencies being more common, it is easy to see why Hydrant insisted on adding Zinc to their formulas (and differentiate themselves in the process!).
Hydrant also contains Magnesium, but only 8% of the daily value. Their Caffeinated Hydration Mix contains both L-theanine for anti-anxiety and caffeine — a unique combination aimed to provide a more relaxed alertness.
Hydrant’s more straightforward flavors of lime, blood orange, and grapefruit are extremely popular… but have the same shortcomings as Liquid IV — i.e. high sugar content. Its 6 grams per serving comes in better than Liquid IV’s 11 grams (!), but that’s still more than necessary for hydration, and enough to make a sensitive person spike and crash. That said, some reviewers don’t mind the extra sugar at all:
The Verdict: Which is the best electrolyte supplement for you -- Liquid IV, Nuun, or Hydrant?
The right choice of electrolytes will vary depending on your activity levels and pre-existing health conditions. Everyone also reacts differently to flavor, but a desire for “good” taste is universal. After all, any struggle to gulp down your supplement can be a deal breaker, and the taste of vitamins and minerals makes many feel nauseous. That said, there seems to be a correlation between best flavor and highest sugar, so pick your poison.
For athletes seeking a cost-effective recovery supplement, we highly recommend Nuun. Nuun has very little sugar, a clean label, and–wait for it–recyclable packaging! Nuun’s watertight tube holds ten tablets, while Hydrant and Liquid IV come individually wrapped and create trash with each use. Lastly, we believe the lower sugar content is truly the best for workout recovery. Nuun also boasts the longest list of electrolytes, and the most flavor choices.
If you find the taste of Nuun’s tablets to be…a bit acquired, we recommend Hydrant as a close runner-up. Hydrant’s supplements taste great, and we love the addition of Zinc to boost the effectiveness of its other electrolytes. They also offer a convenient subscription plan so you can be sure to never run out.
Liquid IV is still a great option to have tucked away in your medicine cabinet *just in case*. They claim that their added glucose helps with rapid hydration, and while that isn’t a lie, glucose is really only needed in emergency re-hydration situations like life threatening diarrhea. Healthy adults and teens generally don’t need more of it. So unless you are hypoglycemic or looking for an electrolyte supplement to take to get you blood sugar up — Nuun and Hydrant are likely better bets to keep your electrolytes flowing and your body fully hydrated.
If you’ve tried these three electrolyte hydration supplements or any others, let us know which you prefer in the comments below.