Five beverages that rehydrate the body better than any sports drink

Natural products are free of additives and can boost performance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2015, 6:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2015, 6:30am

Looking for a boost during a workout, or to quench your thirst after? Before reaching for that sports drink, consider this: not only are you drinking teaspoons of sugar, you're also taking in a cocktail of additives and artificial flavours.

One can of Pocari Sweat, for example, has almost six teaspoons of sugar, while a 600-millilitre bottle of Gatorade packs over nine teaspoons. Vitamin Water, the supposedly "healthier" option, has roughly the same amount of sugar as most commercial sports drinks.

Flavour enhancer, magnesium carbonate (used in gym chalk), monopotassium phosphate, acidity regulator (330), and sunset yellow colouring are among the almost unidentifiable ingredients in these fluorescent drinks.

Check out these five natural wonders that are as good, if not better, at giving you the edge you need to power through. They're cheaper, too.

1. Beet juice

Sports scientists have long known about using the juice to boost sports performance. At the 2012 London Olympic Games, the prized pink liquid allegedly sold out in the city.

Beet juice works as your body transforms the vegetable's very high levels of nitrate into nitric oxide, causing blood vessels to dilate and moving more blood through your system. At the same time, mitochondria, the cells which play a vital role in the body's energy production, become more efficient.

The overall effect is two-fold: more oxygen is moved around the body, and the body requires less energy to perform.

Two shots of concentrated beetroot juice (around 600ml) two-and-a-half hours before exercise reduced the amount of oxygen used during moderate-intensity exercise and increases stamina, in a study conducted by Exeter University scientists published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2013.

Best results have been demonstrated in shorter distance events, although gains during endurance sports are yet to be fully explored.

Interestingly, studies suggest less "elite" athletes are likely to benefit the most.

Explosive team sports such as football are where the most gains may be made.

A study led by David Poole at Kansas State University published in the journal Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry in October 2014 found that nitrate oxide specifically increased blood flow to fast-twitch muscle fibres - the type needed in sprinting and sudden bursts of intensity.

2. Bananas

Research shows that bananas are as good as sports drinks at helping athletic performance. The fruit has several advantages over sports drinks.

According to a 2012 study by Appalachian State University's Human Performance Lab, bananas provided antioxidants not found in sports drinks, and a greater nutritional boost, including fibre, potassium and vitamin B6. Bananas also have a healthier blend of sugars than sports drinks.

The study, published in PLoS ONE, put 14 trained cyclists on a 75km simulated road race lasting two-and-a-half to three hours, during which they consumed either a cup of carbohydrate sports drink or half a banana every 15 minutes.

Dr David C. Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab, says sports drinks are "flavoured sugar water".

"This type of research shows that you can have healthier carbohydrate sources before and after exercise that will support athletic performance as well as a sports drink," he says.

Bananas are as good as sports drinks at helping athletic performance

3. Chocolate milk

There are more than 20 scientific studies touting this beverage's recovery benefits. It contains the magic combination of four grams of carbohydrate to one gram of protein - said to be effective in preventing muscle breakdown while stimulating muscle protein synthesis after endurance exercise. Chocolate milk is also rich in potassium, calcium and vitamin D.

Research presented at last year's American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, found that elite US college swimmers at Indiana University performed better in time trials later in the day after recovering with chocolate milk after an exhaustive swim, compared to a regular sports drink.

On three straight weeks, six swimmers performed a muscle glycogen depleting swimming bout of 100 metres, 60 times over. Immediately after the swim, and again two hours later, they drank either reduced fat chocolate milk, a sports drink (with the same number of calories as the milk), or a calorie-free drink. They also ate a standard lunch.

After five hours of recovery, a series of performance test sets were swum. On average, the swimmers shaved 2.1 seconds per 200-metres swim and 0.5 seconds per 75-metre sprint when drinking chocolate milk compared to the other beverages.

4. Coconut water

In recent years, coconut water has developed a reputation as Mother Nature's own sports drink and has become ubiquitous in bottles, cans and other containers on supermarket shelves.

Studies show coconut water can be just as effective as a sports drink for rehydration and performance, due in large part to its high level of potassium, which helps get rid of muscle cramps. Coconut water has five times more potassium than popular sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade.

A study published in 2012 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that coconut water is a good rehydrator, and has same impact on performance as a regular sports drink.

After running for 60 minutes on a treadmill, 12 runners were given drinks, including coconut water and a sports drink to rehydrate, before a further test two hours later. The coconut water was found to produce the same results in terms of performance as the sports drink.

A word of caution: coconut water is lower in carbohydrates and sodium compared to sports drinks. Heavy sweating induced by strenuous exercise loses more sodium than potassium, and coconut water alone can't replace that lost sodium.

5. Honey

The unique combination of natural sugars in honey - glucose, fructose and maltose - are all absorbed into the bloodstream at slightly different rates, while its moderate glycemic index avoids sharp peaks in blood sugar and energy.

Known to have healing properties, honey also reduces the cellular and metabolic stresses of anaerobic exercise.

To capitalise on its benefits, commercial sports products such as HoneyStinger energy products, and HoneyMaxx sports drinks, use honey as their main ingredients.

A study by Ian Mayhew of Chester University in 2007 found drinking a honey-based sports drink during a simulated 90km cycle time trial was as effective as drinking sports drinks.

Six trained endurance cyclists cycled on three different occasions and drank 300ml of fluid - either water, sports drink or a honey based sports drink - every 20 minutes.

No significant differences were observed, suggesting honey is able to offer the same benefits during prolonged exercise as most commercially available sports drinks.