Hydration Drinks: The Fascinating Solution for Brain Health

Did you know that your brain is mainly composed of fat and water? And that the electrolytes in the fluid surrounding your brain is what helps your brain function?

Hydration with Electrolytes for Brain Function

Electrolytes are very important for brain function, they are literally needed to create brain signals!  Ions of electrolytes are what pass across the junctions in the brain, creating electrical activity which is the communication in the brain. 

Electrolytes crossing neuron junctions in the brain

The fluid surrounding the brain is not just water, it is filled with electrolytes.

When thinking of brain health, this might not be your first thought but… we need to properly hydrate our brains so there is sufficient electrolytes for it to function!

Woman holding water bottle

So when you think of hydration – start thinking of electrolytes, not just water alone.

Looking for something a little extra for hydration?

Momentous fuel – has key electrolytes and easy-to-digest carbohydrates for sustained energy.

Dr Huberman and Dr. Galpin have both partnered with Momentous to provide best-in-class human performance supplements that meet their high quality standards.

Dr. Galpin designed bundles: Andy Galpin’s Female Athlete Bundle & Andy Galpin’s Athletic Resilience Bundle

The Huberman Lab designed bundles: Huberman Lab Focus & Cognition BundleHuberman Lab Complete Product Bundle & Huberman Lab Sleep Bundle

You can use the code VASTMIND to get a discount of 15% off your order at Momentous.

What are Electrolytes?

Hydration Drinks contain water and electrolytes, but what are electrolytes exactly? Electrolytes are dissolved salts like sodium, magnesium and potassium, that can carry an electric charge.

These electrolytes (with positive or negative ions) are used by the body for many metabolic processes. This includes the communication by neurons in the brain but also proper nerve and muscle function in the body.

Electrolytes on laboratory requisition

Salt and Electrolyte Balance in the Body

We take in salt through our diet and then our kidneys decide how much to keep in our body. The kidney holds onto water (you pee less) when it needs to keep salt in the body.

woman drinking a glass of water

This is a very complex system involving hormones and other signals in the body. The kidneys control how much salt and fluid are released or kept in the body by adjusting your urine output.

In case you did not know, your urine is actually filtered blood!

These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty!

Why do we get thirsty? For 2 reasons. We have a high concentration of salt in our blood (blame those salty pretzels!) or we are dehydrated.

So there are 2 types of thirst:

  1. Osmotic thirst which is related to salt levels in the body
  2. Hypovolemic thirst which is related to water levels in the body (drop in blood pressure)
thirsty man in a desert reaching for a water bottle

Neurons in our brain sense the amount of salt in our brain and body. A special part of the brain has this very important role – the organum vasulosum of the lamina terminalis (OVLT).

The OVLT’s job is very important because, as you now know, with an imbalance of electrolytes our bodies do not function very well.

Polydipsia: Drinking too much water

Why adding electrolytes to your hydration drink matters:

This might sound absurd but yes, you can actually die of drinking too much water (but don’t worry, it is a lot of water and this is very rare).

'Drink more water' written on a post it note

We are all told to “Drink more water!’ but if you drink a lot of water without electrolytes you dilute the electrolytes in your body too much.

Hyponatremia is the medical term for having a very low level of salt in the blood. Hyponatremia can be a medical emergency. This is because the body absolutely needs salt to function.

Man drinking from a water fountain

Polydipsia as a medical condition where a person drinks water excessively and it has been linked to schizophrenia and certain medications. There is some evidence that it is associated with increased levels of dopamine.

There have been polydipsia events involving hazings, and ‘who can drink the most water’ contests which have ended tragically.

Impaired Thirst – Drinking Too Little

If you have reduced thirst you can be dehydrated and not realize it, and this is not great for your brain.

There is at least one syndrome linked to not feeling enough thirst, Flammer syndrome.

Check out my post on Flammer syndrome (having symptoms like cold hands, low blood pressure and insomnia). I have 10 out of the 14 main Flammer syndrome symptoms and I now make a habit of keeping myself hydrated with electolytes.

woman warming her cold hands with her breath

Eat More Salt? Really?

I know, you’ve been told to watch your salt intake. Well, that is based on the assumption that you are eating a processed food diet.

Processed foods are really high in salt, and there is a shocking reason why. Adding salt to foods hides the high sugar content from being sensed by your body and it makes you eat more!

Processed foods are actually designed to be desirable while being made of very cheap ingredients. One of my roommates in college studied Food Science, and believe me, it is a fascinating but scary side of science.

Workers at a plant with processed food in small plastic cups

Most people who are eating processed foods are taking in a shocking amount of salt and sugar and very little actual nutrition. Processed foods are designed to trick the body so you don’t feel full, and you eat more!

overweight woman eating a bowl of chips

But if you are reading this, you are probably already optimize your brain health by eating a good diet that is low in processed food. So your foods should not be high in hidden salts and sugars.

Salt and Blood Pressure

Salt intake is linked to blood pressure, but it seems that there is now more controversy on this rule that high salt intake = high blood pressure. This rule may only hold true for really high salt diets, like more than 12g per day. Which is a lot.

Health care provider taking a patient's blood pressure

Understanding the link is confounded by the fact that it is really hard to separate salt alone from the processed foods that have a lot of sugar and poor nutritional value.

Eating a lot of processed foods is also linked to having a lower socioeconomic status, which increases stress, which increases blood pressure.

All this to say that for people who are health conscious and are being very vigilant about salt intake, they could actually be consuming too little.

That being said, if you have high blood pressure or other health concerns (especially kidney issues!), talk to your doctor before consuming more electrolytes.

Hydration Drink: Dr. Huberman Electrolyte Recommendations

Ok great, but how much electrolytes are we talking about?

Dr. Andrew Huberman of the The Huberman Lab Podcast did a whole podcast on ‘Using Salt to Optimize Mental and Physical Performance’.

A spoon with salt

His general recommendations are 3.2-4.8g of sodium and 4g of potassium per day. (This is based on not having certain health conditions, as always this is not medical advice. Seek personal medical recommendations)

Hydration Drinks: Salt Helps Stress?

There’s a direct relationship between the stress system (glucocorticoid system) and the salt craving system.

So if you are going through a stressful period, increasing your electrolyte intake might be a good idea.

On a personal note – I found increasing my salt consumption, wearing compression stockings and meditation to have been very helpful when I had new dysautonomia symptoms while recovering from COVID.

Low Carb Diet or Drink Coffee? – You Need More Salt

Coffee is a diuretic (read more on how coffee works on the brain to keep you alert) so if you are drinking coffee you will pee more, which means you will lose electrolytes.

woman holding a cup of coffee in a shop

Now if you are eating and your food has salt, this probably will not affect you. But if you are fasting, it may be very important to replenish the water and electrolytes lost.

Dr. Huberman recommends that you drink 1.5 times the amount of water with a touch of sodium, compared to the amount of coffee that you drink.

And if you are on a low Low carb diet, you will pee more, and so you will lose more electrolytes, so you may need more electrolytes in your diet.

How Much Hydration Drink: The Galpin Equation

The Galpin equation was developed by Dr. Andy Galpin to calculate how much fluid replenishment is needed during exercise or a cognitively demanding activity.

woman on a track field smiling and holding a water bottle

Basically he recommends that during the activity you drink (in ounces) your body weight (in pounds) / 30 every 15 minutes. Read more about the Galpin Equation in this post.

Here is a chart of the Galpin equation amounts depending on your weight.

Weight in lbsoz of Electrolytes
every 15 Min
ml of Electrolytes
every 15 Min

A neat thing – if you use milliliters instead of ounces – it is almost the same number as your weight in pounds! Pretty easy to remember!

How Long Does It Take To Rehydrate?

But what if you are dehydrated? How long does it take to get rehydrated?

That depends on how dehydrated you are. Certainly if you are very dehydrated you will want to seek medical attention and get IV fluids.

For mild dehydration it may only take a few minutes to rehydrate, if moderate then it may be hours. Again, if your dehydration is severe you should seek medical attention.

Pedialyte is scientifically formulated to rehydrate ill children as quickly as possible. The sugar is added as it helps the electrolytes be absorbed through the jejenum. Pedialyte ingredients are:

  • Sodium, mEq: 45
  • Potassium, mEq: 20
  • Chloride, mEq: 35
  • Zinc: 7.8 mg
  • Sugar: 25g
woman drinking from a water bottle

So if you are needing to rehydrate then a solution of electrolytes with sugar is your best bet.You can make an oral rehydration solution at home with these components. For an adult you may need to make 2-3 times this amount.

  • 1/2 teaspoon of Salt
  • Six teaspoons of Sugar
  • One Litre of clean water

You will want to drink at least 100ml every 5 minutes.

However, if you are not dehydrated you will want drink an electrolyte solution that does not have high sugar content.

Huberman Recommends Electrolyte Supplements Like LMNT

If you want to increase your salt intake, you can just be more liberal with salting your food.

I like to keep some himalayan salt or fleur de sel in a salt pig next to my stove. It looks nice and makes it easy to add it to almost everything I make. I will even add some to my water.

salt in a wooden salt pig with a wooden spoon

However this just increases your sodium, not potassium or magnesium. There are electrolyte mixes available that have all three.

One option Dr. Huberman recommends is an electrolyte powder like LMNT. There are portable packets and you will know exactly what you are getting and they are very portable.

Here is the nutrition breakdown of LMNT’s delicious citrus salt.

Or is you are looking for something a little extra for hydration you could try Momentous fuel – which has key electrolytes and easy-to-digest carbohydrates for sustained energy.

Homemade Hydration Drink

If you like to do it yourself, you can also make your own hydration powder with the same ratios as these commercial powders. This is the amount you need for one glass:

a bowl of himalayan salt

Interested in more about this topic? You might like The Salt Fix by Dr. DiNicolantonio (also available on Kindle or Audible).

Cover of the book The Salt Fix

Interested in quality supplements? Huberman Lab Approved Supplements: Boost Your Brain Health is a post where I discuss Dr. Huberman’s top supplements for brain health.

Dr Huberman and Dr. Galpin have both partnered with Momentous to provide best-in-class human performance supplements that meet their high quality standards.

Dr. Galpin designed bundles: Andy Galpin’s Female Athlete Bundle & Andy Galpin’s Athletic Resilience Bundle

The Huberman Lab designed bundles: Huberman Lab Focus & Cognition BundleHuberman Lab Complete Product Bundle & Huberman Lab Sleep Bundle

You can use the code VASTMIND to get a discount of 15% off your order at Momentous.