For Epicurious, by Katherine Sacks.
I didn’t grow up drinking Gatorade, Powerade, or other sports drinks. There was something about the neon color, overly sweet, artificial flavor of the “healthy” drinks that put me off. But I had plenty of friends who drank them. Those bright blue, neon-green, super-red bottles could be regularly spotted in the high school cafeteria, at football games, and after just about any sports practice.
As an adult, I’ve become a runner, and have taken part in many New York City races, including half marathons that journey through Brooklyn to Coney Island and short 5-kilometer jaunts across Central Park. And what do they serve at these events? Gatorade. Rows and rows of the bright green liquid line the water stations at every race. I grew up hating the stuff, but mid race — drenched in sweat and struggling to keep my energy up — I always reach for it. The sugary, salty beverage is just the pick-me-up I need to get through a race.
I wanted to know just what gives sports drinks that pick-me-up power, so I reached out to registered dietitian Tanya Freirich to get the low-down. According to Freirich, you lose a lot of water and electrolytes in your sweat after extended or vigorous exercise (even more when it’s hot out). “Without enough electrolytes like sodium, potassium and glucose, you might feel dizzy or faint,” she says. Water is just fine, but rehydrating with electrolytes and minerals is more effective, and the sugar in sports drinks helps keep blood sugar steady.
Wanting the benefits of electrolytes without the artificial flavors, I decided to DIY it and create my own version of a sports drink. The most important ingredients are sugar and salt, according to Freirich. “Salt, or sodium, and sugar, or glucose, help your body absorb water most effectively.”
I started with a concentrated mix of lemon and lime juice (”great sources of vitamin C and antioxidants”), ginger (”good for decreasing inflammation and settling an upset stomach”), a pinch of sea salt, and a small spoonful of agave. “Add only a small amount of agave or honey,” warns Freirich. “Too many sugar calories are unnecessary.” She says a good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon liquid sweetener to 1 cup of water (adding about 60 calories).
After mixing up these flavors, I added coconut water, which Freirich describes as “nature’s sports drink,” because it’s low in calories and a natural source of sugar, potassium, and sodium. With its faint yellow-green tint and bright, tangy flavor, my homemade drink — packed with all those vitamins, minerals, and energy-boosting electrolytes — couldn’t be farther from the artificial stuff.
Because unlike those artificially flavored version — which I literally have to chug to get down — this drink is actually delicious. Slightly tangy from the lime juice, slightly spicy from the ginger, slightly sweet from the coconut water and agave, it’s a drink I would happily sip anytime.
Last week I brought a bottle to the gym and drank it during my workout class. The next day, I drank a glass first thing in the morning, as an AM refresher. And after a recent way-too-long Friday night that involved one-too-many cocktails, I reached for a bottle as soon as I woke up the next morning. And those electrolytes perked me right up. No artificial flavoring or glow-in-the-dark color required.
Get the recipe: Lemon-Ginger Electrolyte Drink
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