Energy Beverage? I’ll Drink to That

By Karen Robiscoe   |   December 14, 2017

Hitting the gym. The track. The links, or the courts, we do it because we want to gain muscle, and lose fat, but what else do we lose when working out? Our energy stores are depleted, and our bodies excrete fluids through perspiration. We need to replace those fluids and refuel our muscles too. Lately, though, the range of sport beverages has exploded. So, which is the healthiest choice for you?

First, let’s look at the energy strenuous activity exacts from your body. It’s tempting to get that extra oomph by taking a pre-workout supplement prior to exercising. While pre-workouts spiked with creatine, l-arginine, and beta alanine (which boost energy level, increase blood flow to the muscles, and reduce lactic acid, respectively) definitely increase performance, the stimulants that many of these pre-workouts also contain cancel out the benefits. 

“I’m not keen on them due to the yo-yo effect on overall energy level. Hype supplements are fine for short-term bursts of energy, and may temporarily improve performance, but everything has a price,” said Mark Ashtiani, an orthopedic medical provider, and former competitor in several bodybuilding competitions, including NPC’s renowned Excalibur. “I rely on several small, healthy meals per day, adequate hydration with filtered water, and at least seven hours of sleep to maintain a steady energy level. The quick fix is usually the road to avoid.” 

With doses of caffeine often triple that of a cup of coffee – an ergogenic that enhances output if consumed 20 minutes prior to workout – and unregulated herbal stimulants such as taurine, koala nut, guarana, and dimethylamylamine (DMAA for short) added to many of these pre-workouts, you’re asking for trouble. Putting extra stress on an already hard-working heart by elevating blood pressure and giving you the jitters, nausea, headaches, heart palpations… or worse. What’s more, the carbohydrates found in many of these products are heavy on sugars, both sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, leading to metabolic syndrome by spiking the amount of insulin you produce.

Next, let’s look at what sweat is. Although human sweat varies in composition, it generally contains trace amounts of minerals, lactic acid, and urea – a bi-product of protein breakdown. When you perspire, important electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and chloride are lost, and since these electrolytes transmit electrical impulses between cells to help cells communicate with one another, they need to be replaced, too – which brings us to another category of sports drinks: electrolyte-enhanced beverages. 

Gatorade once dominated this niche market, but its high sugar and sodium content are counter-intuitive, and can be harmful if you don’t sweat out the salt. A 12-ounce serving of Gatorade contains 21g of sugar, and 160 mg of sodium, but the average bottle size is 32 ounces, flooding drinkers with 54 grams of sugar, and 425 mg of sodium if they drink it all (and many do). Although a pound of sweat reduces sodium levels in the body by 500mg, it’s easy to overestimate the amount of perspiration expended, and you must factor in the sodium content in the foods you eat as well. The ideal limit to sodium is just 1,500 to 2,000 mg per day. 

There’s no question muscles need protein to repair and rebuild after a hard workout. Optimally consumed within an hour after hitting the showers, ingesting about 20 mg of protein is best and can be consumed in a variety of ways – or should I say wheys. Protein drinks such as Bone Broth and whey powder have grown in popularity, and they, more than others, live up to the hype. Bone Broth is high in minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium, supplying the electrolytes working out depletes, and a good chunk of protein too. 

Biltmore security officer Ryan Gosselin prefers Isopure, a low-carb protein powder to meet his post workout needs. “It gives me extra protein for rebuilding muscles. I go to the gym about five times a week and play basketball, and I definitely notice my energy is better when I drink the supplement.” An impressive 6’8″ and 250 pounds, his words carry weight. Maybe not as much as the 225 pounds he favors for bench, flies, and curls, but even so. 

Whey powder is a good choice – an easily absorbed milk protein that contains all the essential amino acids (EAAs) you need but can’t produce. Of those nine EAAs, the branched amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine are relevant here. These amino acids encourage protein synthesis that heals the microscopic tears a heavy workout produces. Available in unsweetened, unflavored forms, with some containing small amounts of the electrolytes lost in sweat, it can be added to your post-workout beverage of choice. 

“I don’t go for the pre-workout, high-stimulant stuff. I don’t put my money into it. I drink a little coffee now and then, and that’s all,” yoga instructor Mike Lewis told me. “About an hour or two hour before I teach a class, I’ll eat a half a banana, or have a protein shake I make with whey powder, but the first thing in my belly in the morning is a tall drink of water.”

Water is mypersonal go-to before, during, and after. One that the American Council of Exercise advocates too. According to the council, it’s best to hydrate with 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercising, and an additional 8 ounces a half hour prior to your workout. Replace the water you sweat out every 20 minutes with 8 to 10 ounces during your activity, followed up with another 8 ounces within 30 minutes of cessation. It might seem like a lot of water, but as you can excrete up to 2 pounds of sweat per hour during vigorous activity, it’s all about perspective. 

Rene Lomeli, a native Santa Barbaran, is like-minded: “In my job as a valet, I do a lot of running, and I usually drink a big bottle of Dasani water per shift – sometimes two.” Indicating the 1.5-liter bottle of Dasani water on hand, the hiker, cyclist, and gym devotee said he just refills it with filtered water from his tap, a practice espoused by retired special-ed teacher K. Brendi Poppel. “I’ve never even tried any sports beverages — pre-workouts, protein supplements, or aides. Even last week when they were offering it for free at the store, I skipped it. I drink filtered water.”

There’s your pie-slice consensus. Plenty of water, a nutritious diet, and an occasional protein drink are the best and purest strategy for keeping your body fit.


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