Death and taxes. According to our ever-insightful forefather Benjamin Franklin, these are life's only guarantees, and while I respect a man who can rock a good pair of bifocals, I think ol' Ben left an important certainty off the list -- a threat that comes each and every year and instills terror in the hearts of millions of Americans, causing them to scream, sweat, and run (literally) for their lives.
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: A recent 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.
(Want must-have nutrition info, food swaps, and breaking health findings delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Eat This, Not That! newsletter.)
90 calories, 0 g fat, 22 g sugars (Vita Coco 100% Pure Coconut Water (1 bottle, 17 fl oz).
A 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that compared to a commercial sports drink, coconut water -- a natural source of electrolytes -- was equally as effective in hydrating participants after an intense workout. So why choose the coconut water over the 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.
Not That! Powerade Lemon-Lime Liquid Hydration (1 bottle, 20 fl oz) 150 calories, 0 g fat 37.5 g sugars.
(For more smart sports nutrition tips, check out 26 Ways to Feed Your Body for Results.)
2 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sugars.
A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance found that 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. 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?). The Starbucks Doubleshot, for example, has more sugar than a Twix bar! A much more waistline-friendly way to reap the benefits of caffeine: black coffee. It's sugar-free, packed with antioxidants, and has a negligable 2 calories per cup.
Not That! Starbucks Mocha Double Shot Energy + Coffee (1 can, 16 fl oz) 200 calories, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated) 26 g sugars.
Don't let your coffee craving destroy your diet! Stay away from the 6 Worst Coffee Drinks in America.
5 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sugars (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 the SoBe sugar concoction below -- which packs nearly as much sugar as three whole Kit Kat bars! -- and the winner is clear.
Not That! SoBe Green Tea (1 bottle, 20 fl oz), 240 calories, 0 g fat, 61 g sugars.
(Want more must-have hydration tips? Read Your Guide to Sports Drinks.)
158 calories, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 25 g sugars, 8 g protein.
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. A 2009 article in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that after participating in a vigorous cyclying 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. Plus, chocolate milk is cheaper (and tastier) than anything you'll find in a sports nutrition store.
So should you pick a sports drink with protein? Read up on the science: The Truth about Protein.
Not That! Endurox R4 Chocolate Recovery Drink (2 Scoops), 270 calories, 1.5 g fat, 44 g sugars, 13 g protein.
0 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sugars
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. (Much of this sugar comes from sources like sodas, which is why you should avoid washing your burger down with any of the 20 Worst Drinks in America.) If you want vitamins, get them from vitamin supplements or, better yet, from whole foods (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.
Not That! Vitamin Water Energy (1 bottle, 20 fl oz), 120 calories, 0 g fat, 32 g sugars.