Good old-fashioned water is an American classic. What it lacks in excitement it more than makes up for in convenience. It's hydrating, versatile and it flows freely from the tap. Plus, it already makes up two-thirds of your body, so you know you can trust it. Not to mention it covers 70 percent of the Earth's surface so it's fairly easy to find, too. But how much should you be drinking during hard activity? Most doctors advise drinking two to three eight-ounce cups of water in the two-hour window before you exercise eight ounces every 15 minutes during exercise. But if you want to get your intake down to a science, try weighing yourself before and after your workout. If you weigh more after, youre drinking way too much water and should probably stop doing keg stands over your Camelbak. If youve dropped a couple pounds, take in two cups of water for every pound lost.
Nuun packs all the fun effervescence of Alka Seltzer into a pretty tasty sports drink. You just drop a tab into water, wait for it to thoroughly dissolve, raise your glass high to toast, “Nuuuun!” and toss back the electrolyte-enhanced contents. It’s easy to digest, and thanks to Sorbitol, it has no carbs, no sugar and no more than eight calories. Plus it comes in 11 very mild flavors and is a breeze to tote around in little 12-tablet vials for hydration emergencies. And the best part is it actually works—ask around at your local bike shop or running store, and you’ll probably hear rave reviews. Particularly for the orange flavor, which tastes great in a glass of water…but far less refreshing eaten straight out of the tube. $6/12 tablets.
No one denies that beer has magical powers, but now it’s proven that marathon recovery is among them. Researchers point to the polyphenols—organic chemical antioxidants—in both nonalcoholic and regular beers as responsible for boosting immune systems after exercise, but claim the alcohol in traditional beers cancels out the benefits. (This runs counter to my own personal research, which clearly indicates that beer leads to incredible feats of human strength.) Luckily, further research on alcohol’s effects on recovery is in the works. In the meantime, I’ll be out in the field working on my own research. (See here for a slideshow of canned craft beers.)
Chocolate milk has been getting a lot of hype as the king of all recovery drinks, but scientific evidence remains mixed on whether the sweet, sweet mixture of chocolatey protein and carbs is actually better than a strictly carb-based drink like Gatorade. Some studies [9,14-18] find carb and protein drinks after endurance exercise improve subsequent exercise performance; others [6-8,11,19-21] find no benefit over just carbs. And when studied specifically, chocolate milk is found to have no benefit on muscle recovery over carbohydrate drinks. But all this new-fangled science misses the point—chocolate milk is delicious. And if it’s just as effective as a sports drink in restocking glycogen stores after exercise, why not choose the drink that tastes like chocolate?
Naturally low in calories and chock full of electrolytes and potassium, coconut water can be a magical elixir with the power to cure dehydration, hangovers and various other of societys ills. I have found it works best as a recovery drink, when you can control the chill. When it gets warm (during a hot workout, for instance) it tastes like a cross between skim milk and newspaper pulp. When served cold, however, the flavor is slightly nutty and sweet with a clean aftertaste. The only problem with using coconut water as a sports drinkaside from the polarizing flavor is that it lacks the sodium to replace what you've lost through sweat. So if you're like me, and you come back from a long workout looking like youve been painted with butter and dipped into pretzel salt, you might want to stick with Gatorade or Nuun.