Remember the good ol’ days when the choices for what to drink after a gruelling cardio workout were simple?
Now the health/sports drink market is bursting with choices. Do you need an electrolyte boost after that hot yoga session? Reach for the coconut water.
Searching for a jolt of caffeine (as well as get your daily dose of antioxidants)? Go for some specially formulated Vitamin Water. If you want something to down after a run that will both hydrate and help with digestion, trendy aloe juice could answer your prayers. The cacophony of aggressive pitches, slick packaging and celebrity endorsements (rapper 50 Cent reportedly made an estimated $100-million repping for Vitamin Water) from competing brands make one yearn for the simplicity of water. Turns out that’s your best bet when it comes to hydration, both during and after exercise.
“The only time there’s actually benefit from drinking something other than water is for more serious athletes who are training for over 60 to 90 minutes,” says Jennifer Hill, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and nutritionist. But even if you are putting in the time for a serious workout, a drink whose name ends in “ade” will likely be filled with the sodium, potassium and carbohydrates your body needs for endurance.
So what benefit does the trendy drink the woman on the elliptical trainer beside you is chugging actually offer? We cut through the hype to find out.
KING ISLAND - COCONUT WATER
The pitch: “Natural rehydrant” loaded with 730 mg of potassium – the equivalent of 15 sports drinks and more than one banana.
The taste: sweetened water, slightly salty with a nutty flavour.
Nutritionist’s verdict: “It has potassium and that’s something they market it for, but anybody who’s eating a few servings of fruit and vegetables a day will be getting enough potassium,” says Jennifer Hill, a registered dietitian and nutritionist.
GLACEAU VITAMIN WATER - ENERGY FLAVOUR
The pitch: “Developed to temporarily relieve fatigue, to promote endurance and to enhance motor performance.” Featured enhancements are B vitamins and caffeine.
The taste: memories of watered down orange juice, made from concentrate.
Nutritionist’s verdict: It contains 250 times your daily needs for vitamin C, Ms. Hill says, which is way more than your body can absorb. “You’re peeing out the extra money you’re spending for the vitamins.” It also has unnecessary calories, she says. “It’s not really any different from drinking pop.”
SKINNY SPORT WATER - POWER PINK BERRY CITRUS FLAVOUR
The pitch: “0 calories, 0 sugar, 0 sodium, 0 guilt” is the brand’s tagline. It contains electrolytes (calcium, potassium and magnesium) and antioxidants (vitamins A and E).
The taste: sugary, with an artificial, powdery aftertaste, not unlike diluted Kool-Aid.
Nutritionist’s verdict: “It claims to be a sports drink but lacks carbohydrates and sodium – the key components of a sports drink,” Ms. Hill says. “It’s not going to help an actual athlete.” While the company hypes the fact that the drink contains vitamins A and E, Ms. Hill says those vitamins require fat to be properly absorbed by the body “and obviously this drink doesn’t have fat.”
ALO EXPOSED - ORIGINAL ALOE DRINK
The pitch: The bottle’s label describes aloe as “a health powerhouse chock full of vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.” The drink is meant to “provide the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle.”
The taste: sweet and light with gelatinous floaters, like liquid Jell-O.
Nutritionist’s verdict: Ms. Hill wasn’t impressed with the ingredient list, which includes water, aloe vera juice, sugar, honey, vitamin C and flavouring. She questions the amino acids line since it doesn’t have any protein (and amino acids are the building blocks of protein). Bottom line: “It’s loaded with sugar, which I don’t like.”
GP8 SPORT WATER
The pitch: The bottle makes a bold assertion followed by self-skepticism: “GP8’s advanced oxygen delivery water improves performance and recovery while enhancing hydration. Too good to be true?”
The taste: municipal tap water.
Nutritionist’s verdict: “I wouldn’t pay any extra for it. Water is what your body needs, it’s what your body is made of. So just drink water,” Ms. Hill says.
Of all the options we presented to Ms. Hill, chocolate milk turned out to be one of the most underhyped yet effective post-workout drinks. She gave it top marks for its electrolytes, carbohydrate and protein levels. And, well, it’s chocolate.