I’m talking about swimsuit season! Every spring, as the summer months loom, America’s parks and gyms are flooded with masses of sweaty bodies, all with a single motivation in mind: Look good enough by Memorial Day to feel comfortable getting half-naked in front of complete strangers. And all this exercise is certainly a good thing for our country’s health: An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study predicted that 42 percent (!) of Americans will be obese by the year 2030, and research shows that physical activity is one of the best ways to keep the pounds at bay.
So with fitness in the air, now is the perfect time to dig up the facts on the best and worst drinks for your workout. There are tons of sports beverages on the market promising to help you lose weight, run faster and jump higher, but many of these claims are nothing but bogus marketing ploys. And not only are some of those bottles and cans filled with empty promises, but they’re also brimming with empty calories that could undermine your hard-earned workout gains. Read on for five exercise-enhancing beverages that can help quench your thirst, boost your performance and support you on your journey to swimsuit six-pack-dom.
Best Drink for Hydration
Vita Coco 100% Pure Coconut Water, 1 bottle, 16 fl oz
Compared to a commercial sports drink, coconut water—a natural source of electrolytes—was equally as effective in hydrating participants after an intense workout, a 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found. So why choose the coconut water over a traditional sports drink? For one, coconut water is low on the glycemic index, so it won’t dramatically affect your blood sugar, while fluid-replacement beverages like Powerade are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a high-glycemic-index sweetener that can spike blood sugar levels and promote body-fat storage. Second, a 2010 study in the Journal of Cell & Tissue Research found that coconut water helped reduce blood pressure and cholesterol in rats, suggesting that the drink may also promote heart health.
Best Drink for Enhanced Performance
Coffee, 8 fl oz
During a 1-hour time trial, cyclists who took a caffeine supplement were able to ride about a mile farther than those who took a placebo, a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance found. What’s more, other scientific research has linked caffeine consumption with increased endurance and reaction times. The problem is, most caffeine-enhanced energy drinks are loaded with added sugars (what’s the point of an exercise-boosting drink that makes you fat?). A much more waistline-friendly way to reap the benefits of caffeine: black coffee. It’s sugar-free, packed with antioxidants and free of calories.
If you typically head to the gym in the evening and don’t like the idea of catching a buzz after dark, consider sipping beet juice instead. It’s rich in nitrate, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow and has been shown to have positive cardiovascular effects during exercise and lead to increased endurance.
Best Drink for Weight Loss
EBoost Natural Orange, 1 packet
Green tea is another smart source of energy-enhancing caffeine. Like coffee, it’s packed with antioxidants, and a 2011 research review published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that the herbal drink may also promote weight loss. A great way to get green tea on the go: EBoost. Unlike most green-tea based energy beverages, it’s sweetened with natural, zero-calorie Stevia, and it boasts an impressive antioxidant profile. Compare it to conventional bottled green teas—some of which pack as much sugar as three whole Kit Kat bars!—and the winner is clear.
Best Drink for Hot Weather Training
V8 100% Vegetable Juice, Low Sodium, 8 fl oz
While taking your workout outside on a warm, beautiful day can seem appealing, hot weather sweat sessions can lead to dehydration, which can strain the heart and make it difficult for muscles to work efficiently. Fuel up with V8 an hour before your workout to ward off dehydration side effects like cramping and light-headedness. The drink has just the right amount of sodium and is great source of potassium, two electrolytes lost through sweat during intense exercise. And as an added bonus, each cup counts as two servings of vegetables.
Best Drink for Recovery
1% Chocolate Milk, 8 fl oz
Drinking a combination of carbohydrates and protein after a hard workout can help restore your energy and aid in building lean, metabolism-boosting muscle, but it turns out that you don’t need a fancy recovery beverage to reap these benefits. After participating in a vigorous cycling session, cyclists who drank chocolate milk were able to ride 51 percent longer in a subsequent workout than those who drank a standard recovery beverage, a 2009 article in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found. Plus, chocolate milk is cheaper (and tastier) than anything you’ll find in a sports nutrition store.
Best Drink in America
Water, 8 oz
You may feel trendy with a bottle of vitamin-enhanced water in your hand, but that brightly-hued liquid probably isn’t improving your health. Most vitamin-infused H20 is just colored sugar water with some vitamins tossed in—bad news when you consider that Americans take in about 355 calories of added sugar every day. If you want vitamins, get them from vitamin supplements or, better yet, from whole foods (wild salmon, for example, is loaded with energy-boosting vitamin B-12). And if you want water, get it from, well, water. Nature’s beverage is calorie-free, cost-free and, unless you’re an elite athlete who does high-intensity exercise for more than an hour at a time, it’ll take care of all your workout hydration needs.
Walk into any nutrition store and you’ll see more varieties of protein powder than you could ever try in a lifetime. Different types have qualities that make them the best choices depending on your lifestyle needs. To help you choose the right one for you, we’ve found the best protein powders for every fitness and better body goal, from weight loss to packing on serious muscle mass.