The days of plain old water being the beverage of choice at the gym are long gone. Now, some gyms even boast their own smoothie or juice bar. We’re inundated with so many choices -- pre-workout drinks; post-workout ‘recovery’ drinks; drinks for energy; drinks for mid-workout fueling; drinks for immortal life. Okay, that last one I maybe made up, but there are definitely a lot of claims being made for beverages marketed at regular exercisers.
So what’s your best bet for optimal performance and results? Read on for some old wisdom versus new choices when it comes to drinking up while working out:
Out with the old: If it’s early in the morning or you don’t have much time to spare before your workout, it’s easy to consider grabbing a glass of juice instead of something to eat. While it may seem like a good idea to rev up your blood sugar, the insulin spike your body has to glucose hitting your bloodstream can then cause a crash in blood sugar -- the opposite effect you’re trying to achieve. A recent study suggests that fasted state exercising yields more energy and better results than drinking a sugary drink before you work out.
In with the new: If you can’t stomach eating a small snack to provide a slow, sustained energy hit for your bloodstream, then exercising in a fasted state is most likely a better option than a sugary drink.
Out with the old: It’s pretty well-known that caffeinated drinks are a diuretic, meaning they tend to dehydrate regardless of their water content. With this in mind, it’s a no-brainer to reach for water rather than coffee, right?
In with the new: While it’s definitely still a diuretic, caffeine has also been shown to have a performance-boosting effect on physical activity. Recent research of over 29 studies into the effects of caffeine on athletes show positive results of caffeine use with resistance training and team sports. While it may not be a bad idea to reach for a drink with caffeine before your workout, bear in mind your own personal response to caffeine; if it gives you an upset tummy, that’s not exactly conducive to a great workout!
Out with the old: Sports drinks are specially formulated to give your body exactly what it needs while you’re working out and when you’re recovering. They must be better than water!
In with the new: It’s true that sports drinks have specific ratios of carbs, electrolytes, and sodium to keep you hydrated during your workout and aid with recovery as well. Unless you’re working out vigorously for an hour or more, though, it’s unlikely you’ll need the bells and whistles that sports drinks offer, and you can help your muscles recover just as effectively with a small snack after working out. Plus, who can forget the campaign waged by a 15-year-old against one sports drink company using an ingredient banned in Japan and Europe?
Out with the old: You had a tough workout, and your gym cafe offers freshly made protein smoothies. Sure, it has peanut butter in it, but it must be super healthy if it’s a protein shake!
In with the new: Read the fine print on the calorie count of those protein shakes and smoothies. Many can pack up to 600 calories, so make sure you’re not totally wiping out all the effort you just spent in the gym! Research shows that low-fat chocolate milk (with just 150 calories for a single serve milk box) is as good as, if not better than, a protein smoothie for muscle recovery!
Out with the old: It seems to be a no-brainer that drinking alcohol right after working out would hamper the recovery process of your body. So why do so many running races offer beer right after the finish line?
In with the new: Interestingly, there’s not a great deal of research into the effects of alcohol on muscle recovery post-exercise. However, an Aussie study of alcohol consumption by Rugby League players after a match seems to point to a negative effect after the equivalent of four or more drinks, so perhaps a single post-workout drink wouldn’t be as harmful as you might imagine. You could always hedge your bets with this workout recovery beer (yes, you read that right!) due to hit the market summer 2014.
What’s your workout drink of choice? Do you stick with water, or do you swear by a sports drink?
Image via danielhargrave/Flickr