Benchside Beverages: Wading Through the Sea of Choices

By Jodi Sheakley

Let’s face it – by keeping pace with rotating practice and tournament schedules, navigating the trials of travel, and running in multiple directions, summer is anything but uncomplicated.   If you’re thirsting for craving a little simplicity, read on for help on wading through the murky sea of liquids on the market:  sports beverages, energy drinks, shakes, and tried-and-true H2O.

Sports Drinks

Many athletes favor drinks like Gatorade and Powerade to help replenish electrolyte stores and restore their potassium/sodium balance.  However, some still find the commercial beverages too sweet.  Dilute with water in a 1:1 ratio, or make your own by adding a teaspoon of mineral salt to a gallon of water. 

Attention, Parents:  Don’t be a Matador!

While energy drinks like Red Bull are all the rage, this bull belongs in the ring, not on athletic field.  The hefty levels of caffeine cause sugar levels to surge, then plummet faster than you can say, “Toro! Toro!”  So resist the temptation to be a matador!  Allow your kids to max out on this bubbly, and they’ll be left with minimal energy reserves.

The Case for Chocolate

On the other hand, chocolate milk an excellent choice after your workout.  “If you can tolerate it, milk is an excellent recovery food since it has the carbohydrate-to-protein ration that you need – around three to four grams of carbs for every gram of protein,” says Roberta Anding, R.D, a sports nutritionist at Rice University and team dietician for the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Why chocolate milk?  Cocoa beans contain antioxidants, which help out with muscle repair.  The good news is that chocolate milk is usually a snack bar staple at most rinks.  Or, stash some Carnation Instant Breakfast packets in your travel bag to add to the plain white stuff.  With twice as much protein as an egg, double the calcium of a serving of yogurt, plus 21 vitamins and minerals, this powder is the type of nutrition that that muscles scream for after an intense training session.  Even better, add a banana (with a tablespoon of peanut butter) to ward off cramps, and you’re on your way to muscle recovery at warp speed! 

Meal Replacement Drinks

Easily digested, whey protein drinks can be beneficial, if not too concentrated.  Be sure to read their labels critically, since many are loaded with sodium.

…And Steer Clear of Soda

Every can contains not only about nine teaspoons of sugar, but also the ability to deplete calcium from growing bones.  Besides, any liquid that’s capable of removing rust off the bumper of your vehicle does not belong in your body!  Enough said. 

The Hydration Equation

Children are more sensitive than adults to overheating and dehydration.  Because muscles contain so much water, even a slight degree of dehydration can compromise athletic performance.  Perhaps the best insurance to combat fatigue, then, is to drink enough liquids in the days prior to major events.  William Sears, M.D., a leading pediatric physician, suggests drinking three-quarters of an ounce per pound in the three days before the event to “pre-hydrate.”  He offers the following guidelines:

  • Before the game:  2 cups
  • During the game: 4-8 oz. every 15-20 minutes
  • After the game:  after strenuous exercise, replenish with fluids, carbs and electrolytes used up during the game.  Drink 16-24 oz. of plain, cool water – slowly, to avoid nausea, heartburn and cramps (which may occur if your digestive system is overloaded too soon). Re-hydrating your body with plain water first will often prevent post-game fatigue, and stomach upset.

Therefore, despite the many beverages promoted for optimal sports performance, you may be relieved that you can still rely on plain, clear, un-carbonated, unadulterated, and readily-accessible H2O to transform your young athlete into “H2-Go.”  May your travels through the sea of beverage options be smooth sailing! 

Jodi Sheakley, MS, CFT, operates Nutrivita Wellness, a wellness and fitness consulting practice, in Charlotte, North Carolina.  For additional information, please visit or email

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