Finish Line Rehydration

Dec 22, 2015

Typically the first thing we look for after crossing the finish line or ending our workouts are the fluids. All too often we turn to the nearest Gatorade table to “replenish our electrolytes” in order to rehydrate. Due to the successful marketing campaigns of a variety of sport drink companies, we’ve fallen into this trap thinking that these colorful drinks are actually good for us. But you would be mistaken.

If you take the time to look at the ingredients, don’t be surprised if you find upwards of 21 grams of sugar per serving- meaning one bottle actually contains 52 grams total. You wouldn’t spoon 12 teaspoon of sugar directly into your mouth… so why is it okay to drink it?

And forget about the “low-calorie” options which basically reduce the sugar only to replace it with artificial sweeteners (sucralose). These sweeteners lack any sort of nutritional value, and have even been notorious in the research world for their associations with an increased risk of cancer. A recent study demonstrated a statistically significant relationship between high concentrations of the artificial sweeteners, sucralose and aspartame, in relation to DNA damage severity[1].

So what are some better options out there?

Although drinking a refreshing cold bottle of skim milk immediately after crossing that finish line may not be the first thing that comes to mind- it just might be your best option for recovery. Skim milk naturally has a high amount of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and a higher energy density to help replace your muscle’s energy sources. Due to the casein and whey proteins found in skim milk, the fluid takes longer to break down and be absorbed in the body, allowing for increased fluid retention when compared to water and sports drinks. One study demonstrated improved hydration status two hours into recovery, compared to other typical post-exercise beverages[2].

Similar to skim milk, chocolate milk has also demonstrated similar beneficial recovery results following exercise. It contains more carbohydrates than skim milk in 1 cup (26g vs 12g in skim), which is optimal during recovery for repletion of both liver and muscle glycogen- our body’s main source of energy for high intensity workouts. Studies comparing the recovery period after excessive exercise show that chocolate milk is just as effective as other endurance drinks out there [3], but come with a much more affordable price.

Coconut water is another great option for rehydrating post-exercise. Fresh coconut water is naturally high in potassium and low in sodium important for electrolyte balance. When compared to water and to a variety of other sports drinks, coconut water has been found to be just as effective if not better than the traditional alternatives. When rehydration status and urine output have been evaluated, coconut water provides for better fluid retention than plain water. Resulting in less “nature calls” and an increase in hydration status following your workouts[4]. The biggest plus- it’s natural and unprocessed, making it a better choice compared to sports drinks.

If your goal is to become a healthier you through diet and exercise, don’t do your body a disservice by immediately filling it full of processed ingredients and sugar in order to ‘recover’. Check your labels, and know that there are better options out there.

Alyx Brown DC, MS, CCSP

Arvada Sport and Spine Group

[1] Eyk, Armorel D. (2015). The effect of five artificial sweeteners on Caco02, HT-29 and HEK-293 cells. Drug and Chemical Toxicology, 38(3), 318-327.

[2] Volterman K, Obeid J, Wilk B, & Timmons B. (2014). Effect of milk consumption on rehydration in youth following exercise in the heat. Applied Journal of Physiology and Nutritional Metabolism, 39, 1257-1264.

[3] Pritchett K, Pritchett R, Green J, Katica C, Combs B, Eldridge M, Bishop P. (2011). Comparisons of post-exercise chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage following cycling training on recovery and performance. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 14(6), 29-39.

[4] Pérez-Idárraga A, and Fernando L. (2014). Postexercise rehydration: potassium-rich drinks versus water and a sports drink. Applied Journal of Physiology and Nutritional Metabolism, 39, 1167–1174.