Why the best sports drink is the one you make yourself

Woman drinking a sports drink after a workout

Commercial sports drinks promise all kinds of benefits, and although they can be helpful in some cases, the key is making sure you match up the right beverage for your workout.

If you’re doing a light workout – something 30 minutes or less – water alone will generally be sufficient to keep you hydrated. Keep in mind that many commercial sports drinks get their calories from added sugars, which can irritate your stomach and negate the calories you burn during a workout.

A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade, for example, has 140 calories and about 34 grams (nine teaspoons) of sugar. That’s roughly the number of calories a 170-pound person burns on a brisk, 30-minute walk.

If your workout goes longer than half an hour or is higher intensity, something beyond water is often helpful. As a former track and cross country athlete at The Ohio State University, I’ve experimented with a number of different ways to stay energized and hydrated for endurance events over the years. I’ve found that the best sports drink is one you can make yourself. Simply take one part fruit juice, two parts water, and add a dash of salt.

Some of the advantages of this homemade recipe are:

  • Fruit juice contains natural sugars, which are less harmful to the body.
  • Diluting helps the body digest those sugars more easily.
  • The juice and salt help replenish more of what you lose during exercise.
  • By mixing this yourself, you’re going through fewer plastic bottles – always a plus for the environment.

Is one juice better than others in homemade sports drinks?

The best juice is one that is going to encourage you to drink more and stay hydrated, but I generally recommend people stay away from citrus juices, especially orange juice. Because of their high acidity levels, they can very easily upset your stomach.

Apple juice is generally a better place to start, as it’s mellower with a lower acidic content.

One other tip: Check the label to be sure you’re buying 100% juice. Some products labeled as “juice drinks” are already watered down and may contain additives.

Trouble sleeping? It could be what you’re eating or drinking.

Anything else I should consider for peak performance?

Caffeine is a proven optimizer of performance, so a couple of extra cups of coffee or shots of espresso before a big event can make a difference. Just be aware that caffeine is also a diuretic, so you’ll want to chase any additional coffee with water or additional homemade sports drink to make sure you maintain your hydration levels.

As for recovery, those ads you’ve seen showing athletes chugging chocolate milk are not just a marketing ploy. As a recovery drink, chocolate milk does offer a good blend of protein, fat content and carbohydrates. Just go easy – the sugars can take a toll.

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