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Is Sugar An Electrolyte? Sugar’s Role In Hydration

Reviewed by: Jacek Szymanowski (Certified Nutritionist, S&C specialist, M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology)

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Sugar is not an electrolyte. In this article, we’ll be going in-depth on the purpose of both sugar and electrolytes in the body, so you can gain a better understanding of both. 

Keep in mind sugar can refer several things. White sugar specifically is sucrose, which can then be broken down in the body into glucose and fructose. All of these, however, (sucrose, fructose, and glucose) are forms of sugar.

Is sugar an electrolyte? No, sugar is a simple form of carbohydrate that the body breaks down into glucose and fructose as an energy source. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that help carry out numerous bodily functions.

There are only a few main electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate.

an electrolyte sugar

Sugars and Salts – are Sugars Electrolytes?

No, sugar is primarily used for energy in the body, while sodium and other electrolytes are involved in electrical signals through the body, allowing for major physiological functions. Below we’ll be going more in-depth on the difference between sugar and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and more. 

What is Sugar? What is its Role in the Body?

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and along with fats and proteins, carbohydrates are one of the 3 main macronutrients that make up our diets. Sugar is a broad term that can include sucrose, fructose, and glucose.

Sucrose specifically is broken down by the body into glucose and fructose. Glucose is used for cellular energy, while fructose is processed in the liver. Sugar is digested quickly, and will raise blood sugar levels quickly as well.

is sugar electrolyte

It’s worth noting the potential danger of too much added sugar. High-sugar diets are associated with high-calorie consumption, which may also lead to obesity and heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults limit added sugar intake to 24g/day for women and 36g/day for men. Fruits can be a high-fiber, nutrient-rich alternative to sweets high in added sugar. 

But does sugar have electrolytes? No, while foods with sugar may contain electrolytes, the sugar itself doesn’t have any electrolytes. The same goes for questions like “Is glucose an electrolyte?” and “Is fructose an electrolyte?”

While sugar and other forms of carbohydrates play a valuable role in the body, this is very different from the role of electrolytes which we’ll be covering in more depth below. 

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Electrolytes and their Role in the Body

There are 6 main types of electrolytes, which are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride, and phosphate. All of these minerals play a slightly different role in the body, so we’ll be covering each individually below. As you’ll see, you should be able to get sufficient amounts of all these electrolytes through eating a diet rich in whole foods. Let’s get into it. 

1. Sodium

First, and arguably most important is sodium. Sodium’s main role in the body is maintaining fluid balance, as well as muscle function and nerve impulses. This is the electrolyte you lose the most of while sweating, making it the main ingredient in most electrolyte supplements. 

To form salt, sodium is combined with chloride – another electrolyte that we’ll be covering in-depth below. 

Adequate sodium intake for adult men and women is 1,500mg/day. There are not many foods that are naturally rich in sodium. However, most people still get more than enough sodium in their diet through processed food and table salt. 

2. Potassium

Potassium plays many similar roles in the body to sodium, including muscle function and fluid balance – although potassium maintains balance inside cells, while sodium performs this role outside the cells. Potassium also helps to maintain blood pressure. 

preparing electrolyte drink

The recommended daily intake of potassium is 2,600-2,900mg for women and 3,400mg for men. Unlike sodium, potassium is not as heavily consumed in the average diet. Good dietary sources include bananas, dried fruit, beans, and dairy. 

3. Magnesium

Magnesium helps to keep the heart beating steadily, as well as helping over 300 enzymes carry out their functions. 

It’s recommended that men get 400-420mg/day and women get 310-360mg/day. Supplementation can be beneficial if you struggle with magnesium intake. Key dietary sources include nuts and seeds, as well as oatmeal, brown rice, dairy, and most meats. 

4. Calcium

Calcium is beneficial for bone health, as well as heart rhythm, nerve function, and muscle contraction. 

It’s recommended that men and women get 1,000mg/day of calcium, while older people (51+ for women and 71+ for men) need closer to 1,200mg/day. Prioritize calcium in your diet through dairy, almonds, and leafy greens

5. Chloride 

Chloride is used in the body for fluid regulation and maintaining the body’s pH balance. As mentioned above, when combined with sodium it forms the compound we know as table salt.

shaker and sugar

The recommended amount for most adults is 2,300mg/day (going down to 2,000mg/day from 51-70, and 1,800mg/day for those 71+). As mentioned above, because chloride is a part of salt, most people do not need to worry about chloride intake. Chloride also can  naturally be found in seafood

6. Phosphate

Finally, we have phosphate (phosphorus), which performs similar roles to several of the other electrolytes already covered. Like magnesium, it helps activate enzymes, and like calcium, it plays a key role in bone health. 

It’s recommended that both men and women get 700mg of phosphorus a day. It is found in dairy, most meats, as well as legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

Can you take Sugar if you Need Electrolytes?

No, this is because sugar is not an electrolyte. Each electrolyte performs its own complex set of tasks in the body, and sugar is not a suitable replacement. 

So, you may be wondering, why are sugar and electrolytes often included in sports drink formulas like Gatorade? Do you need sugar to absorb electrolytes? 

electrolyte drink with sugar

Not quite, instead sodium and water are necessary for glucose to enter the bloodstream. This is a benefit to sports drinks containing both sugar and sodium together. 

Sugar and electrolytes are also a great combo because sugar can give you some quick energy alongside the hydrating benefits of electrolytes. It may also improve the taste of an electrolyte supplement. This is why many sports drinks like Gatorade combine electrolytes and sugar in their formula. 

So, while sugar is not a replacement for electrolytes, it may be a perfect partner in certain cases. 

Electrolytes we Recommend – Hydrate by Transparent Labs

Transparent Labs Hydrate Electrolyte Powder

transparent labs hydrate
  • Form: Powder
  • Flavors: Tropical Punch, Peach Mango
  • Key Ingredients: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium
  • Additional Ingredients: Coconut Water Powder, Taurine
  • Package Information: 304g
  • Servings: 40
  • Price Per Serving: ~$0.75
  • Company Founded: 2012
  • Recommended by athletes: Paul SklarHafþór Júlíus Björnsson

If you’re interested in electrolyte supplementation, our recommendation is Hydrate by Transparent Labs, which contains an effective blend of key electrolytes for hydration. 

Each serving of Transparent Labs Hydrate contains 884mg of total electrolytes, broken down in the table below. This ratio should mirror the electrolyte ratio lost through sweat fairly accurately.

ElectrolyteMg/Serving
Sodium500mg
Potassium250mg
Calcium84mg
Magnesium50mg

The AIS recommends 0.5-0.7g of sodium/L of fluid during endurance training to give you adequate electrolytes while still maintaining thirst drive. So, a single serving of Hydrate should be mixed with around 1 liter of water. 

It’s worth noting this supplement doesn’t contain any sugar or carbohydrates, so if you want an additional boost of energy, you may want to combine it with another intra-workout supplement. Hydrate is instead sweetened naturally by stevia and contains no artificial ingredients whatsoever. 

electrolyte powder from Transparent Labs

Hydrate comes in 6 different flavors and will cost you ~$1.33 per serving. Remember that electrolyte supplementation will only be genuinely beneficial for endurance athletes, although you could still use a smaller serving of hydrate as a flavor enhancer for plain water. 

Conclusion

Sugar is not an electrolyte, it is a simple form of carbohydrate that’s used in the body for energy. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals including sodium, potassium, and more, that all perform specialized roles in the body. 

If you’re an endurance athlete, sugar and electrolytes may be an effective combo for providing you with quick energy as well as hydration. For a high-quality electrolyte supplement, we recommend Hydrate by Transparent Labs

Have you ever used any electrolyte supplements before? Were you aware of the difference between sugar and electrolytes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Also read:

References:

  1. Ana Trivax, “Healthy Eating Tip of The Month: Does Sugar Feed Cancer,” Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan, https://www.med.umich.edu/pfans/_pdf/hetm-2016/0416-sugarcancer.pdf (accessed April 4, 2024)
  2. The Nutrition Source, “Sugar,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  3. The Nutrition Source, “Sodium,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  4. The Nutrition Source, “Potassium,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  5. The Nutrition Source, “Magnesium,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/magnesium/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  6. The Nutrition Source, “Calcium,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  7. The Nutrition Source, “Chloride,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/chloride/#:~:text=It%20helps%20to%20regulate%20the,and%20carbon%20dioxide%20within%20cells. (accessed April 4, 2024)
  8. The Nutrition Source, “Phosphorus,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/phosphorus/ (accessed April 4, 2024)
  9. AIS Sports Supplement Framework, “Electrolyte Replacement Supplements,” AIS, https://www.ais.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/1000487/36194_Sport-supplement-fact-sheets-electrolytes-v5.pdf (Accessed Apr. 4, 2024)
  10. Photos made by Torokhtiy Media Team.

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Camila Parente Santos

Author: Camila Parente Santos
Sports Nutritionist

Experience: 7 years

Camila has worked as a Nutritionist for 7 years. In addition to being a nutritionist, she is an amateur weightlifting athlete for 2 years. Camila has experience at Flamengo’s football base and in a food supplement company and currently provides services at a clinic. At the moment she is coursing a postgraduate study in Sports Nutrition.

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Jacek Szymanowski

Reviewed by: Jacek Szymanowski

Certified Nutritionist,
M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology
Performance architect
,
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Experience: 20 years

With over 30 years of fighting experience, specialization in nutrition coaching for athletes, and expertise in metabolic health and dietary strategies, Jacek offers a comprehensive approach to optimizing your performance and well-being. Backed by a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology, Jacek remains at the forefront of scientific advancements, ensuring that his coaching is always evidence-based and up-to-date.

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