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An Electrolyte Supplement Comparison

What ingredients are important to have in an equine electrolyte supplement? How much should be in there? How do the most popular products on the market compare? These are the questions that I explore in this week's supplement comparison article.


Two things have me thinking about equine electrolyte supplementation this week; 1) a client with an unusual tying-up case, and 2) my own long distance travel to warmer climates. I've written about electrolyte use in several other articles; "[Your Secret Weapon] 5 Steps to Predict Water Consumption" (April 2021), "Nutritional Considerations for Shipping Horses Long Distance" (February 2023), "My Olympic Games & Hot Horse Show Plan" (July 2021), and "10 Tips for Keeping Horses Comfortable in 100 Degree Temperatures" (July 2021). Because I've written about electrolyte use so much in the past while referencing the peer-reviewed articles to support the information, I'm going to jump right into the product comparisons. If you would like more detail about HOW to use these products and WHEN, check out the articles listed above. You'll find a comparison chart farther down this article.



What is the FUNCTION of an Electrolyte Supplement?

The most common terms that surface on equine electrolyte product marketing are "hydration" and "recovery". The assumption is that the loss of electrolytes and water through excessive sweating will impede the body's return to homeostasis. For the purposes of this article, we will not argue the efficacy of electrolyte use before and/or after excessive sweating. We'll assume that most horses respond positively to electrolyte loading pre-exercise and electrolyte replacement post-exercise by increasing water consumption, improving muscle function, and buffering the acidity of the stomach (Butudom et al., 2022 and Johansson, 2011).


The one caution that I will give is that daily electrolyte use is wasteful and not advised. You should keep these products as tools in your nutritional toolbox for extreme events such as drastic changes in temperature, above normal exercise, long distance travel, and exercise in high humidity.


PRIMARY INGREDIENTS

Here are the 6 minerals that fall under the "electrolyte" nomenclature; sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphate (phosphorus), and magnesium. They are what we nutritionists refer to as MAJOR minerals, because horses need them in relatively large quantities compared to the minor (aka trace) minerals. When you look up a horse's requirement for these major minerals you will find them reported numerically in grams. On the feed labels for these electrolyte products you are going to see the major minerals listed in milligrams, but I've converted them to grams in order to show how they relate to the big picture diet. More and more, I see supplement companies report nutrients in the guaranteed analysis of a label in small units. My presumption is that they are trying to make their product look better by having bigger numbers; 400 milligrams looks a lot more impressive than 0.4 grams.


Listed from Highest to Lowest Inclusion Weight as Averaged Across 8 Powdered Electrolyte Products

  • Chloride (Cl): 18.9 grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average Cl requirement of 53.3 grams

  • Sodium (Na): 9.17grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average Na requirement of 17.8 grams

  • Potassium (K): 6.05 grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average K requirement of 32 grams

  • Calcium (Ca): 1.63 grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average Ca requirement of 35 grams

  • Phosphorus (Ph): 1.36 grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average Ph requirement of 21 grams

  • Magnesium (Mg): 0.81 grams

    • 1,100 lbs horse in moderate work has an average Mg requirement of 11.5 grams


Comparing the average inclusion weights of each mineral to the average horse's requirement isn't super helpful, but I did it anyway so you could see that these products are at least offering a significant amount. For example, the average powdered electrolyte supplement fed at recommended levels is offering18.9 grams or 35% of your horse's daily Chloride requirement of 53.3 grams. That's meaningful. If it was less than 10% I'd be worried.


A 13 mile fox hunt on a warm fall day would be a perfect scenario for electrolyte support.

THE COMPARISONS

I limited myself to 8 electrolyte powder comparisons and 7 electrolyte tube comparisons. I looked at the recommended serving rate, the total grams of each electrolyte per serving, add-ons, and cost per serving. I'm not going to spend time arguing the bioavailability of mineral sources, because all of our collective eyes would roll back into our heads, so we'll assume that all the mineral sources are equal. Be aware...I'm sure each of the companies would argue with me on that. But, since I'd prefer this comparison to be clear and helpful rather than muddy and unhelpful, we will NOT argue wether oxides, citrates, chlorides, or carbonates are more effective. Savvy?


Ok, let's get started. The major thing that I'm looking for when comparing any supplement product is the "bang for the buck". I want value. I don't want to pay for the fanciest product (that doesn't impress me), and I don't want to skimp for the cheapest product either (you get what you pay for). So, I'm looking for an electrolyte product that 1) has a short list of ingredients, 2) low cost per serving, and 3) high nutrient density. Honestly, I don't think that any of these products are a bad choice. I was actually quite happy with the selection that Google presented me with. The highest priced product was the Perfect Balance Electrolyte by Peak Performance Nutrition, but they have good levels of each electrolyte. The price may say more about its distribution system. The least expensive products per serving were the Summer Games by Kentucky Performance Products and Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellet by Farnam, but I would use both of them if I were in a pinch. The best values were the Kentucky Equine Research Restore SR and the Hygain ReGain and $0.84 and $0.90 per serving respectively.


The powdered electrolyte products were fairly simple and straightforward to compare. *You'll see that the opposite is true for tubed electrolyte products discussed later. Besides some trace mineral add-ons, most products do not have added digestive aids which I like. The exception to this is the Purina Replenimash which is an electrolyte, energy source, and gastric acid buffer all in one and you feed pounds rather than ounces, so we need to keep that in mind when looking at the per serving cost. Purina's Research Review [FOUND HERE] looked at energy production of an in vitro (test tube) cecum model and not electrolyte metabolism specifically, which supports the function of this product as a comprehensive "recovery" supplement. Half of the electrolyte powders that I compared had added trace minerals in them. Trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper, and manganese were the most common and they came in the form of proteinates or amino acid complexes. A hard working horse has higher requirements for these trace minerals of course, but I don't think it's necessary to get them from an electrolyte. They should already be present at high levels in the diet from a proper vitamin/mineral source. If you've read any of my other articles, you know how I prefer a supplement to stay in its lane and not try to be too many things at once. When you try to be too many things at once in a couple ounces, you end up being poor at all the things. So, you'll see that my favorite products do not have add-ons.

 

TUBES VERSUS POWDER

Comparing the tubed electrolyte products was a lot more complex, because there was much greater variety in "add-on" ingredients, container size and recommended feeding rates. Most products added one or more trace minerals, vitamins, and/or digestive aids in addition to the electrolyte mix.


Again, we'll start with an evaluation of your bang for buck. The cheapest products were the ORALX Electro-Plex and the ElectroCharge by Finish Line. As you can imagine, the levels of electrolytes in these two products were lower than the average. The Kentucky Performance Products Summer Games had a per tube price around the median, but they recommend giving 2-3 tubes throughout the day for a 1,000 lb horse in moderate work! The Equerry's Electro-Probiotic was hard to find at a reasonable price that included shipping, so I settled on the $18.78 from the Animal Health Solutions, Inc website (the folks that make it). This product seems to focus more heavily on being a probiotic, enzyme, and vitamin source than an electrolyte source, so I found it to be high cost for low value. The winners in my book were the Kentucky Equine Research Restore and the Apple Elite Electrolyte Paste. They stayed in their lane, being first and foremost an electrolyte source without add-ons, AND had relatively high levels of electrolyte minerals for reasonable prices; between $12 and $14.00.

SUMMARY

All in all, I found the powdered products to be a greater value. The tubes seem convenient at first, but you'll spend many times the cost for less nutrients and lots of plastic packaging. I would only buy the tubes if you were certain you only needed a limited servings for a limited time. I went ahead and bought a bucket of the KER Restore SR for my travel to California. I'll use it 24 hours before I travel, while I travel, and I'll keep it on hand if temperatures in California are above average.


If you find this article helpful, please share it with your friends, veterinarians, and trainers!




REFERENCES


BUTUDOM, P., SCHOTT, H.C., II, DAVIS, M.W., KOBE, C.A., NIELSEN, B.D. and EBERHART, S.W. 2002. Drinking salt water enhances rehydration in horses dehydrated by frusemide administration and endurance exercise. Equine Veterinary Journal, 34: 513-518. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2002.tb05475.x


Johansson, Karolina. 2011. Salt to ruminants and horses. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Uppsala 2008 Department of Animal Nutrition and Management. Accessed on February 12, 2024 from https://stud.epsilon.slu.se/2898/1/Johansson_a_110622.pdf.

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