The 6 Best Electrolytes for Kids When They are Sick, According to a Pediatric Dietitian

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When your little one is not feeling well and doesn't seem particularly interested in eating or drinking, that is the time to turn to a combination of both electrolytes and fluids. Electrolytes are minerals that have electric charges. They include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, chloride and bicarbonate and are found in all bodily fluids. 

Electrolytes are responsible for maintaining a significant number of normal bodily functions including hydration, proper functioning of nerves, muscles, and chemicals, and the process of building and breaking down molecules in the body. The mechanisms that allow you to move, speak, and even digest food would be impossible without an appropriate balance of electrolytes. The body does an amazing job of maintaining that balance, but we still need to support it with diet and lifestyle choices. 

When your child is sick–with symptoms such as poor appetite, lack of thirst and fluid losses–it is important to prioritize maintaining their electrolyte and fluid balance above all else. In order to do this, we recommend electrolyte supplements in combination with fluids. When purchasing an electrolyte supplement, it is important to ensure that it contains a minimum of sodium, potassium, and sugar as either glucose or dextrose. If your child is taking in no solids at all, it would also be advisable to select a product that contains chloride. These nutrients allow a child's body to continue essential daily functions while sick. 

Verywell Family Approved Electrolytes for Kids

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

Is it Beneficial to Supplement with Electrolytes When My Child is Sick?

Not only is it beneficial, it is recommended. If your child is a little under-the-weather but is eating and drinking normally, is not vomiting, and does not have diarrhea, they likely do not need an electrolyte supplement. However, if they are feeling ill and have no interest in eating, fluids and electrolytes become more important than solid foods, and an electrolyte supplement can become crucial. 

Children experience electrolyte losses when ill in a number of ways. Children who may benefit from electrolyte supplements include:

  • Children who are not taking in enough electrolytes and/or fluids. For example, with a common cold, some children present with a poor appetite. Reduced intake of fluids and solid foods can result in dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities. 
  • Children who are vomiting or have diarrhea: Excessive vomiting and diarrhea, coupled with poor appetite/fluid intake, can cause significant fluid loss and result in dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.  

Some more specific signs to look for include:

  • Changes in urine output: Children with decreased urine output or concentrated/smelly urine will benefit from an electrolyte supplement.
  • Extended time without eating, drinking, or urinating: If your child has gone greater than 8 hours without eating, drinking, or urinating while ill, make sure to give them an electrolyte supplement and call your pediatric healthcare provider.

Who May Not Benefit from Electrolyte Supplements When Sick

All children should be supplemented with electrolytes and fluid if they are sick enough that their appetite is affected or they have diarrhea or vomiting. The exception would be if your child has a metabolic illness that precludes them from consuming specific electrolytes. 

The Importance of Sugar and Salt in Electrolyte Drinks


Keep in mind that some of the key ingredients you will want to look for in an electrolyte drink may be things that you may typically hear you should minimize in your child's diet—namely, sugar and salt.

Sugar:

While the goal is not typically to increase sugar intake when children are healthy, it is crucial to look for added sugar in electrolyte drinks for children when they're sick. There are two reasons sugar is added to electrolyte drinks: for energy and to help with fluid reabsorption. Much like electronics, humans need frequent battery charges to maintain our function. Unlike electronics, we cannot get our energy from a charger—we have to get it from food.

Our preferred energy source is a simple sugar called glucose, also called dextrose by some medical professionals. Adding glucose to sick-day supplements, something we are encouraged to drink when we have poor appetite and dehydration, gives our body an energy charge while we are low on battery. Additionally, glucose helps with reabsorption of sodium and fluids. This is critical when we know someone who is sick is at a greater risk for dehydration.

Salt:

A healthy child's diet generally contains plenty of salt, which is made up of the electrolytes sodium and chloride. However, kids who are sick and have poor intake and/or vomiting or diarrhea benefit from drinks that contain these key electrolytes.

Best Overall: Pedialyte Electrolyte Solution, Grape

Pedialyte Electrolyte Solution, Grape

Walgreens

Pros
  • Contains zinc

  • Contains chloride and dextrose

Cons
  • Contains artificial flavors and colors

Pedialyte might be the most well known electrolyte supplement, and it is our top pick because it is a safe, effective, and readily available product. It includes sodium, the most abundant electrolyte, as well as chloride, a key electrolyte that some electrolyte drinks skip out on.

Another feature unique to Pedialyte is that it includes zinc. This is particularly important if you have a child with excessive diarrhea. Zinc, a trace element and not an electrolyte, is only needed in small quantities. With that in mind, the small amount you need is often excreted with diarrhea. A 2020 study in The New England Journal of Medicine now recommends including low dose zinc for 10-14 days for all children with diarrhea.

We love that Pedialyte is readily available, comes in a range of flavors, and is the top brand recommended by doctors and pharmacists. It also has a long-standing reputation. First available in the 1960s, Pedialyte was initially only sold to hospitals and was the first ready-to-drink rehydration product available.

Form: Liquid, “Ready-to-Feed” | Serving Size: 360 mL | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium, chloride | Sodium: 370 mg | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Recommended Use: 1-2 Liters per day may be required to maintain hydration when sick

Best for Nausea: Pedialyte Freezer Pops

Pedialyte Freezer Pops

Walmart

Pros
  • Good flavors

  • Good sodium and potassium content

  • Easy on gastrointestinal tract

Cons
  • Small volume

  • Higher in sugar and includes artificial colors/flavors

If you have a kid who is really struggling with nausea, iceys can help with symptom relief. Pedialyte Flavored Pops squeeze a large amount of flavor and electrolytes into a small pop to help replace lost electrolytes.

However, since one ice pop is roughly two ounces, or ¼ a cup, it likely will not provide enough liquid to rehydrate your child. To maintain proper hydration, nearly 16-32 pops would be recommended daily. We recommend using these ice pops alongside water or other electrolyte drinks in order to ensure your child is getting enough fluids.

Form: Frozen ice pop | Serving Size: 2 ice pops, 125mL | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium, chloride | Sodium: 130 mg | Carbohydrates: 3 g | Recommended Use: 16-32 pops would be recommended to maintain hydration. Consider using Pedialyte Freezer Pops in coordination with other drinks or electrolyte supplements.

Best Ingredients: Kinderlyte Natural Oral Electrolyte Solution

Kinderlyte Natural Oral Electrolyte Solution

Vitacost

Pros
  • Natural ingredients

  • Multiple flavors

  • Doctor formulated

Cons
  • Can be more expensive

Kinderlyte is a relatively new product on the market, and it is quickly making a name for itself as a competitor to the Pedialyte brand. This brand is doctor-formulated to provide an effective electrolyte drink option without all of the artificial components. It is, for the most part, competitively priced, and the electrolyte and fluid balance is almost identical to Pedialyte. It should be noted that Kinderlyte actually has more sodium per liter, which could be incredibly beneficial particularly for children who have had excessive vomiting or diarrhea. 

Like Pedialyte, it contains both zinc and chloride. A nice feature that allows Kinderlyte to stand out is that they entirely avoid the use of food coloring, by using fruit/vegetable juice to provide color. It is non-GMO and uses only natural flavors. All in all, this is a great product that hits all the essential marks. However, it is important to note that Kinderlyte uses stevia, a sugar alternative that some children may not enjoy the taste of, to add additional sweetness.

Form: Liquid, “Ready-to-Feed” | Serving Size: 360 mL | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium, chloride | Sodium: 460 mg | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Recommended Use: 1-2 liters per day may be required to maintain hydration when sick

Best for Adolescents: Kinderlyte Electrolyte Powder

Kinderlyte Electrolyte Powder, Rapid Hydration

Amazon

Pros
  • Great nutrition

  • Easy to travel with

Cons
  • Limited to four packets per day

Mix Kinderlyte Electrolyte Powder with water to make a drink that restores your child’s electrolytes and helps them rehydrate. Kids could safely consume anywhere from 2-4 packets per day to help restore nutritional status when sick. The sleek marking and similarities to products like LiquidIV make it perfect for teenagers. Not to mention, our pediatric dietitians find that children who get to make their own drinks may be more likely to drink them. 

When it comes to nutrition, it has sodium, chloride, zinc and potassium. It also has a little bit of sugar, as dextrose, to help with lost carbohydrate stores. The ingredients are held to the same standards as the rest of the Kinderfarms products—no fructose, plant-based, non-GMO. Since it’s in powder form, it is easier to store for a long period of time and to travel with. 

With that said, take note that Kinderfarms makes two powder-based electrolyte supplements. One, the original rehydration solution, is perfect for sick kids. The other, the immunity supplement, is not recommended for rehydration because it contains a high dose of zinc. Excessive intake of zinc can lead to nausea and vomiting. If you are planning to provide your child with more than one packet, stick with the original formula when sick.    

With that in mind, we do run into similar issues with the original rehydration solution. Intake greater than 4 packets does provide excessive content of zinc and in some cases, sodium and potassium.

Form: Powder | Serving Size: 1 packet, 11.3 g | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium, chloride | Sodium: 530 mg | Carbohydrates: 6 g | Recommended Use: Mix 1 packet with 16 oz water with a maximum of 4 packets per day

Best for Picky Eaters: Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Amazon

Pros
  •  Readily available

  • Multiple flavors

  • Good taste

Cons
  • Contains artificial colors

For those of you with picky eaters, you may have been reading through this list thinking–well this is all great, but my kid only eats goldfish and peanut butter and jelly on a good day, how can I get them to drink Kinderlyte when they are sick? In short, gatorade is just fine. Will it rehydrate your child and support their potassium and sodium levels? You bet. 

We would caution against using any of the Gatorade Zero products, which are equivalent to “diet” drinks. Remember, we want to restore glucose levels when a child is sick. Giving them some sugar, whether it is glucose or dextrose, is immensely beneficial and should not be avoided. 

Conventional gatorade is higher in added sugar than some other products, which is not ideal when your child is feeling well but may be especially beneficial for replenishing calories if your child has low food intake and/or is sick for an extended period of time.

Form: Liquid, “ready-to-feed” | Serving Size: 355 mL | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium | Sodium: 160 mg | Carbohydrates: 22 g | Recommended Use: 1-2 liters per day may be required to maintain hydration when sick

Best for Prolonged Oral Intake: Ensure Clear, Apple

Ensure Clear, Apple

Amazon

Pros
  • Kids love apple juice

  • Contains protein

  • Contains vitamins and minerals

Cons
  • Artificial flavors/colors

  • Not intended for pediatric use

Ensure Clear is packed with protein, carbohydrates and various vitamins and minerals–including electrolytes—which can be helpful to meet your child’s nutrient needs if they aren’t eating much. It is fat-free, as fat can be difficult on the stomach when sick. One or two containers of Ensure Clear, Apple diluted with water throughout the day is most certainly enough to provide the essential electrolytes, added hydration, protein and a boost of vitamins and minerals. 

We would particularly recommend trialing this product if your child (or you!) has a diarrhea based illness. Ensure Clear also has zinc and magnesium, which are both lost in excess with diarrhea, so it can help replace lost nutrient stores. 

While it is not marketed for pediatric use, if your child weighs more than 15 lbs, it is entirely appropriate to provide them 1-2 cartons per day while sick. With that in mind, this is not a beverage we would recommend for children when they aren’t sick. As always, pair your Ensure Clear with some sea salt crackers and morning cartoons.

Form: Liquid, “ready-to-feed” | Serving Size: 240 mL | Electrolytes Included: Sodium, potassium, chloride | Sodium: 70 mg | Carbohydrates: 30 g | Recommended Use: Mix 1-2 cartons per day with water to reach a goal of 1-2 liters per day

Final Verdict

When selecting an electrolyte supplement for your sick child, you want to be sure you pair the supplement with fluids. Be sure the combination of fluid and electrolytes includes sodium and potassium at a minimum with chloride if available, which is why Pedialyte remains our top pick.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. We prioritize products that are third-party tested and certified by one of three independent, third party certifiers: USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab. We also prioritize non-GMO, Organic, and products that are free of unnecessary and potentially harmful additives. 

It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

Avoiding Severe Dehydration & Electrolyte Imbalances

The results of critical electrolyte losses and/or imbalances can be scary. Initial signs/symptoms include reduced and concentrated urine output, fatigue, dizziness, aches and dry lips. Prolonged dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities may result in constipation, delayed cognition, decreased physical performance and kidney stones. In more serious cases, function of the heart, brain, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract may be compromised.   

Jennifer Bleznak, MD, a provider at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, encourages intake of fluids and electrolytes while sick as a way to avoid short hospitalizations for rehydration. “When a young child is sick, keeping them well hydrated is key to their recovery. Many times children need to be admitted to the hospital for IV fluids after vomiting, diarrhea, or even a nasty cold that makes them feel too sick to eat and drink normally. One of the best things families can do at home to help a sick child recover is keep them well hydrated.”

When your child is sick, you want to observe both fluids in and fluids out. If your child is putting out more than they seem to be taking in–whether that comes from poor appetite or excessive output such as vomiting or diarrhea–that would be the time to start some type of electrolyte supplementation combined with fluids. Normal output includes urination, bowel movements and sweating. When ill, because appetite is poor and fluid intake decreases, urine output can decrease while output from stool and vomiting may increase. When combined, this can lead to dehydration

What to Look for in Electrolyte Supplements for Kids

Third Party Testing

  • Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:
  • Third party testing does not test to see if a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
  • Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing. 
  • The third party certifications we can trust are: ConsumerLab, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations. 
  • Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
  • Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies, it does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer, and calling up the manufacturer and their testing lab to determine their protocols and decide if you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.

Form

Electrolyte drinks come in liquid “Ready-to-Feed” and powder-based, which needs to be mixed with water. Be cautious with the powder-based products. Read the nutrition facts label correctly, and be sure not to over consume based on the values provided below. You can avoid this by looking at the serving size and determining how much your child is taking in comparison to recommendations. 

Ingredients and Potential Interactions

Electrolyte consumption is safe and low risk and an important part of the diet when children are sick. With that said, there are always risks associated with excessive intake of nutrition. With respect to intake of electrolyte supplements when ill, the primary focus should be on maintaining an appropriate balance of sodium and potassium as they both can negatively affect the heart. Do not to exceed 2000mg/d of sodium and 3000-4700mg/d of potassium in children. 

Dosage

The amount of fluid and electrolytes recommended per day varies based on the age and weight of a child. This can create a bit of confusion for parents. See our chart below, adapted from the Texas Children’s Hospital Pediatric Nutrition Reference Guide, to determine how much of each electrolyte is appropriate for your aged child.

  Sodium  Potassium  Chloride  Magnesium  Calcium  Phosphorus 
0-6 months  120 mg/d  400 mg/d  180 mg/d  30 mg/d  200 mg/d 100 mg/d 
7-12 months  370 mg/d  700 mg/d  570 mg/d  75 mg/d  260 mg/d  275 mg/d 
1-3 years  1000 mg/d  3000 mg/d  1500 mg/d  80 mg/d  700 mg/d  460 mg/d 
4-8 years  1200 mg/d  3800 mg/d  1900 mg/d  130mg/d  1000mg/d  500 mg/d 
9-13 years  1500 mg/d  4500 mg/d  2300 mg/d  240mg/d  1300 mg/d  1250 mg/d 
14-18 years  1500 mg/d  4700 mg/d  2300 mg/d  360-410 mg/d 1300 mg/d  1250 mg/d 

If you are interested in taking a closer look at the specific daily recommendations for electrolytes, the National Institutes of Health has excellent resources. However, these values were generated for times of health. When your child is sick and the focus becomes restoring fluid and electrolyte status, your goal changes to providing the basic electrolytes to keep your body’s systems operating. To meet that goal, you should focus on selecting a product that has a minimum of sodium, potassium and chloride. With this in mind, try not to exceed 2000mg/d of sodium and 3000-4700mg/d of potassium in children. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides helpful guidance on recommended fluid intake for children less than five years of age. For children older than five years, their age typically corresponds with the amount of cups they should be drinking per day.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my child is well hydrated?

    First, monitor their intake and output. Are they putting out a lot of volume, with vomiting and frequent diarrhea without replacing lost fluids? Next, take a look at them. Do they seem particularly lethargic? Are they crying without tears? Do their lips seem dry? Last, take a look at their urine output. For younger kids, do they have decreased wet diapers? For an older child, check to see if they are producing smaller volumes of concentrated, dark yellow or even brown urine. If your child is ill and goes greater than eight hours without drinking or urinating, contact a pediatric healthcare provider.

  • How do I keep my sick child hydrated if they won't eat or drink?

    Again, if your child goes greater than eight hours while sick without drinking or urinating, contact your doctor. They may recommend replacing lost fluids with IV hydration. Continue to try providing fluids as your top priority, and don’t worry about how “healthy” it is. The most important thing is for them to drink something. If they won’t drink an electrolyte beverage, this is the time for apple juice and ginger-ale.

  • Do electrolytes help with altitude sickness?

    Increased altitude can increase your urine output. Anything that increases your output can deplete your electrolytes. By that logic, using an oral electrolyte rehydration solution may help keep your body in balance.

  • Can drinking too many electrolytes make you sick?

    With nutrition, it’s always a balancing act. Too much or too little of anything can become problematic. Too much sodium could increase your blood pressure, too much potassium can cause irregular heart beats, too much zinc can cause nausea and vomiting, too much magnesium can cause diarrhea. However, after reading this article, we all know the side effects of insufficient amounts of electrolytes! So yes, consume everything within a safe limit. Try not to exceed 2000mg/d of sodium and 3000-4700mg/d of potassium in children.

  • Is G FUEL Hydration safe for kids?

    In brief, no, we would not recommend this for children when healthy or sick. G FUEL has two primary liquid drinks. One, the energy formula, is caffeinated and therefore not at all appropriate for children when sick or necessary when healthy. The other liquid product, the hydration formula, has only 15mg of sodium per 510mL where, for comparison, Pedialyte provides 360mg in that same volume. The powder-based products have the same issue—there are just not nearly enough electrolytes per volume to restore needs.

  • Is old fashioned apple juice as effective as an electrolyte drink?

    A lot of parents wonder if diluted apple juice is appropriate for sick kids. In brief, it will not do any harm. And, more importantly, if it is the only thing you can get your child to eat or drink, it is the most responsible thing to provide your child. Remember, there are two components to maintaining electrolyte balance–restoring the electrolytes and restoring the fluid loss. If apple juice is the only fluid you can get your child to drink, consider also giving them a Pedialyte ice pop or sea salt crackers. Alternatively, you could try diluting the apple flavored Ensure Clear with water.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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