Since Gatorade helped popularize sports drinks in the mid-sixties, companies have concocted an assortment of beverages to help athletes replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates. While many of the drinks succeed at that main goal, they’re often loaded with dyes, sugar, and additives. Kevin Sprouse, a sports-medicine physician based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and head of medicine for the EF Education First Pro Cycling Team, bristles at the idea of an athlete fueling with poor-quality food and drink. “It seems illogical to me that someone would engage in an activity for their overall health but fill the body with unnatural chemicals,” he says.
One alternative to these highly processed beverages is to craft your own. It only takes a few minutes and simple ingredients. We asked some experts and athletes for their favorite go-to drinks that are rich in hydrating nutrients and restorative ingredients and a cinch to make.
Pro-Am Electrolyte Drink
Each September, Blackberry Farm, a luxury resort in Walland, Tennessee, holds a grueling, three-day bike race known as the Blackberry Pro-Am Classic. To keep athletes fueled, Blackberry keeps a ready supply of a chilled homemade sports drink available during both breakfast and lunch. While Sprouse concedes that there’s no such thing as the “perfect sports drink,” he says that this recipe would work for many athletes, even if the sodium concentration may be a bit light. That’s an easy fix, though: just add more salt when needed.
- 8 cups water, divided in half
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup juice (cherry, watermelon, or orange)
- Juice of 2 lemons and 2 limes
Bring four cups of water to boil in a pot over high heat. Lower to a simmer, and add honey and salt. Stir until dissolved. Combine mixture with remaining four cups of cold water in a large pitcher. Add final ingredients and chill. Makes nine eight-ounce servings.
Coconut-Citrus Electrolyte Drink
This recipe is a favorite of Amy Marolf, a Denver-based fitness and nutrition coach. Coconut water is good source of potassium, and the honey provides simple sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, says Kat Sweatt, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Birmingham, Alabama. The raw ginger may also be especially good for more strenuous exercise, as Sweatt notes that consuming the root could help alleviate muscle cramps. She recommends alternating between this drink and water when working out.
- 1 1/2 cups 100 percent coconut water
- 1/2 cup filtered tap water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons organic honey
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 slices of a one-inch piece of peeled, fresh ginger (to float in drink)
Mix all ingredients, except for ginger, in a pitcher or water bottle until honey and salt are dissolved. Add ginger. Can be made the night before and chilled. Makes one 16-ounce sports drink.
Hannah Green, an ultrarunner based in Silverton, Colorado, makes this postworkout refresher when she’s home and near a blender. Sprouse suggests that athletes enjoy the recovery beverage with a small meal rich in protein and carbohydrates.
- 1 cup frozen watermelon cubes
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- Lime to taste
- A dash of salt (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a blender, blitz, and serve. Makes one 16-ounce serving.