After a tough workout at the gym, many people reach for a sports drink. You know the ones; those technicolor fruit drinks, most often labeled with an "ade" suffix ("Powerade," "Gatorade," etc.) and an ingredient list long enough to make any nutrition-minded person give pause. At about 100 calories per 16 ounces, on average, a sports drink can certainly put a dent in the caloric maintenance of a workout session.
And while doctors and sports nutritionists recommend the drinks for endurance and pro athletes, who need the extra calories, sugars and salts, the average gym class warrior isn't in need of anything labeled "G Series Pro 02 Perform." That's because research shows that athletes don't deplete their electrolyte and glycogen stores for more than an hour of intensive training.
For those of us who maybe sweat it out over a three mile run or 45-minute spin class (certainly nothing to sniff at, but not exactly record breaking either), lower-sugar and all-natural alternatives to the standard variety of sports drinks can have the "same benefits, but also health benefits for the long term," explains Elizabeth Applegate, Director of Sports Nutrition and a senior lecturer in nutrition at University of California, Davis in an interview with HuffPost Healthy Living. "Most of us who exercise are doing it to improve our health and to look better, so we want to think about what makes sense with that in mind."
For a lighter workout, you could easily stick to plain water. But if what you're doing requires a bit of a pick-me-up, there are options beyond sports drinks. Recent studies have shown that some solid foods — such as bananas and raisins — may be just as effective for sustaining the performances and electrolyte balances of hard-working athletes. And with extra benefits like fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, they may fit into a complete nutrition and fitness plan better than a Gatorade. But some sports nutritionists maintain that liquid pick-me-ups are the way to go. "The thing that works best is a drink," Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, a sports nutritionist who works with professional and Olympic athletes, tells HuffPost. That's because blood flow to the stomach slows during a workout, making digestion more arduous, she says.
In this scenario, homemade, all-natural versions of commercial sport drinks can be a good option. But no matter what you end up grabbing on your way to the gym, it's important to keep in mind that, when it comes to intensive or prolonged exercise, calories and carbohydrates actually support weight loss and fitness. "It's a contradiction, but you really do need the calories to perform well," says Lewin. "The calories are what's enabling you to work out at your best. if you're not well-fueled, you're not going to work out as hard."