If you’re planning to literally hit the new year running, it’s important to supplement your workouts with foods and drinks that will replenish vital vitamins, minerals, and nutrients lost during your sweat session. While your first thought may be to bring Gatorade with you each time you hit the gym, there are much better, all-natural options. In fact, the popular sports drink may actually do more harm than good: Researchers at the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley found that sports drinks often contain significant amounts of sugar and calories without providing any health benefits.
“Despite the positive connotation surrounding energy and sports drinks, these products are essentially sodas without the carbonation,” said Dr. Patricia Crawford, the lead author of the study. Instead of guzzling Gatorade after your next workout, choose one of these five options instead — these low-calorie, natural alternatives provide the same benefits as Gatorade without the unwanted sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients.
After a strenuous workout, reaching for a banana is a great way to refuel and re-energize. SFGate explains that potassium plays a key role in muscle function, and a deficiency in the mineral can cause cramping. When you exercise, you lose potassium through your sweat, making it crucial to replace your potassium levels after you hit the gym.
Eating a banana can boost your potassium intake by 487 milligrams, which is 10% of your daily recommended intake, SFGate reports. A large banana also contains 0.37 milligrams of manganese, a mineral that supports physical activity by helping your body utilize all of its nutrients.
Furthermore, research conducted at Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab showed that bananas provided more benefits to trained endurance cyclists than Gatorade. When compared to the sports drink, bananas provided the cyclists with more antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. In addition, bananas have a healthier blend of sugars than sports drinks.
“The mode of exercise is not the issue. I think there are a lot of athletes who don’t like the thought of drinking carbohydrate sports drinks, which are essentially flavored sugar water. This type of research shows that you can have healthier carbohydrate sources before and after exercise that will support athletic performance just as well as a sports drink,” said Dr. David C. Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab and a member of the College of Health Sciences faculty at Appalachian State.
2. Chocolate milk
A glass of chocolate milk is an ideal post-recovery drink due to the simple sugars, protein, vitamin D and B12, and calcium it contains, according to The Week. A study from the University of Texas at Austin compared the recovery benefits of drinking low-fat chocolate milk after exercise to a drink that had the same ingredients and calories as a sports beverage.
The study found that after riding a bike at moderate intensity for 90 minutes, then for 10 minutes of high-intensity intervals, 10 trained cyclists rode faster and had more power when they consumed low-fat chocolate milk rather than a sports drink.
Furthermore, the study showed that after four-and-a-half weeks of cycling, chocolate milk drinkers had twice the improvement in maximal oxygen uptake. “The advantages for the study participants were more muscle and less fat, improved times while working out and overall better physical shape than peers who consumed sports beverages that just contained carbohydrates,” said Dr. John Ivy, the lead researcher of the study.
Rich in carbs, particularly natural sugars, raisins offer a quick energy boost, making them a great post-workout snack. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared raisins to sports jelly beans — jelly beans that have carbohydrates, electrolytes, and vitamins B and C — and found they’re a good alternative to use for high-intensity cycling workouts.
Cooking Light adds that raisins are also chock-full of potassium, more than 300 milligrams in a small box, which helps prevent dehydration and muscle cramps. In addition to raisins, The Huffington Post reports that other dried fruit, such as figs and pears, are also a great post-workout snack because of their high carbohydrate content.
4. Coconut water
If you’ve just participated in an intense workout, plain water just won’t cut it. Instead, try sipping on coconut water. Mercola.com says that coconut water is rich in vitamins, particularly B vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, including zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, and manganese. It also contains amino acids, organic acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients; most important, it is a rich source of electrolytes, potassium, and magnesium.
Men’s Fitness notes that coconut water contains 15 times more potassium than Gatorade — it has about 470 milligrams per eight ounces. Something to keep in mind: If you have a high sweat rate or had a particularly intense workout, Stack suggests pairing your coconut water with a few pretzels. Coconut water may not contain enough sodium on its own to replenish what you lost after a strenuous gym session.
5. Homemade sports drinks
Skip the store-bought sports drinks and make your own, healthier versions instead. Daily Health Post writes that while regular Gatorade contains some hydrating elements, it also contains many unnecessary ingredients and preservatives, including sucrose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, monopotassium phosphate, red 40, and blue 1.
If you’re looking for a great homemade natural energy and sports drink recipe, try the Daily Health Post’s, which contains water, salt, magnesium, juice, and a natural sweetener. The Huffington Post also shares a recipe for a natural sports drink, which features water, orange juice, maple syrup, and salt. An eight-ounce serving contains 50 calories and 110 milligrams of sodium.