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Hydrate or Cry: Make Your Own All-Natural Sports Drink

Chuck Wagner via Shutterstock

We’ve all heard the stories of how backcountry endurance wonks concocted the first molar-crushing energy bars in their kitchen or garage, and went on to hit the big time, spawning a sport-snack empire and changing the way we eat on the go. Buh-bye, trail mix. 

Mass-market sports drinks aren’t so different: They started niche, designed for athletes who needed to replace vital electrolytes before, during, and after training. But as the industry grew, the message became more generic: Anybody who so much as moves his/her body or breaks a sweat must re-hydrate with a special drink in neon hues that don’t exist in the natural world. Now sports drinks are so ubiquitous, they take up half an aisle at the grocery store. 

But just because the labels say “sport,” doesn’t mean these drinks are good for you—a fact that even health-conscious athletes and parents tend to overlook. (Guilty.) “Most bottled sports drinks are full of chemicals and fake coloring like yellow #5 and caramel #1 to make them appealing to consumers,” says Jennifer Keirstead, a registered holistic nutritionist in the badass mountain burg of Nelson. B.C., whose clients include skiers, mountain bikers, climbers, and kids. “Some even contain vegetable oil—and you can be sure it’s the poorest quality.”

Hmmm…you don’t want your little ripper depleted and dehydrated after tearing it up on the local mountain bike course, but you don’t want him sucking down 16 ounces of turquoise sugar water, either. So what to do? Make your own!

“It’s cheaper and much more healthful,” says Kierstead, whose recipe is so easy it only has 4 ingredients: organic lemon juice to replenish vitamin C, as well as key minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron; raw honey to act as carbohydrate and supply muscles with quick energy; sea salt to replace lost minerals, and filtered water to replace fluids you’ve sweated out.

Simple, with a few teensy caveats. “You want to use raw or unpasteurized honey,” explains Kierstead. “The live enzymes help with digestion and keep your intestinal track healthy.” Sea salt is better than table salt because it’s unprocessed. Pay attention to where your salt is harvested, too: Kierstead’s partial to Himalayan, Icelandic, or Atlantic sea salt. “After Fukushima, I worry about the poor Pacific Ocean,” she says. Make a batch and keep a pitcher in the 'fridge all summer.

Homemade “Electrolade”

1 quart filtered water

2 tablespoons unpasteurized or raw honey *

big pinch of unrefined sea salt

¼ cup juice from fresh, organic lemons

Mix 4 ingredients with a wooden spoon and chill; Kierstead prefers glass pitchers whenever possible, to avoid chemicals leaching from plastic jugs. For an icier yum the little rascals will love, pour into popsicle molds and freeze. 

 * The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against feeding honey to babies younger than 12 months  to prevent the risk of infant botulism. 

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