If you know anything about fitness, you probably know the importance of hydration. It’s pretty straightforward: when you work out, your body burns fuel, which takes water out of your body. It also sweats, which takes even more water out of your body. Fail to replenish the water—and the minerals and nutrients you lost with it, on more strenuous days—and you’ll hit your limits sooner, achieve reduced gains, and feel terrible instead of spectacular. So, what’s on the beverage menu for the athletically inclined?
Probably the first thing that came to mind when you saw the title of this article, sports drinks have positioned themselves as the only acceptable option for real athletes working hard—but how do they stack up? Well, it depends on what you need and what you’re after. If you’re working for an hour or more at high intensity, you’ll probably benefit from the blend of sugar, electrolytes, and whatever added boosts your sports drink of choice offers. But they’re not going to bulk you up, and you really don’t need the extra calories and salt if you’re doing light exercise or aiming solely to cut fat.
If you’re looking to get stronger, protein shakes are nearly mandatory—you can, of course, eat your protein as food, but it might be cost prohibitive to get the complete coverage a protein shake can offer. The bigger you want to go, the more attention you’ll need to pay to protein shakes. There’s a lot of variation out there; your traditional pre- and post-workout whey proteins, vegan options, casein as a before-bed booster, etc. Entire books could be written about optimizing your protein intake with shakes, but for this article, know that you need protein to get stronger, and this is a great way to do it.
If you like to stick with the natural and familiar, milk can be an exceptional beverage for the gym—if you have no lactose intolerance to speak of. For those who tolerate milk perfectly, it offers a blend of protein, fats, and sugars to rival a protein shake, along with a few key electrolytes and, oddly enough, the ability to rehydrate you faster than water. If you’re pushing yourself hard and need to bounce back quickly, you can up your game to chocolate milk. This isn’t the dieter’s friend, but it’s a remarkably sound option nonetheless.
Looking for an edge? The natural nitrate content of beetroot juice makes it an amazing hidden weapon for savvy athletes. Drinking beetroot juice before an extended workout effort can improve stamina, allowing you to go further than you thought you could. Just don’t overdo it—overtraining is a real risk, no matter how great you feel in the moment.
Sometimes, the classic is the classic for a reason. For the vast majority of those in the gym, nothing’s going to beat water as your beverage of choice. It hydrates quickly, it contains zero calories to undermine your workout efforts, and it rests easy in your stomach during and after exercise. If you’re working extra hard, you might need to replenish your electrolytes, but most gym-goers don’t work hard enough to worry about that. Keep it simple, and you’ll reap the benefits.