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Stay hydrated with natural alternatives to sports drinks

Roger Federer tosses an empty water bottle - AP Photo/Andy Wong

The middle of a Chicago winter may not seem like the time to talk about hydration and natural alternatives to sports drinks.  However, hydration takes on new importance during cold weather as your body may not be sending you the right signals.  Cold weather suppresses the thirst reflex, which is the foremost reminder that the body needs fluids.

The benefits of proper hydration are almost too many to enumerateFor martial artists,  who lose a lot of fluid on and off the mat, dehydration can result in poor performance, cramping, and even injury.

Along with water, the body loses electrolytes during strenuous exercise.  Dehydration and electrolyte loss have been linked to muscle cramps during and after workouts.  In order to function correctly, muscles need several electrolyte minerals:

  • sodium
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • calcium
  • iron
  • zinc

Sports drinks replace these electrolytes as they are lost thourgh sweat and urine.  However, sports drinks are also calorie laden and contain various substances that do not occur in nature.    For those seeking natural alternatives without the neon colors, there are a number of options.

Water is always the best alternative for many reasons, but does not replace the necessary electrolytes.  Water should be supplemented with foods that are high in electrolytes, such as fruits and vegetables.  Remember that drinking your electrolytes is a stopgap, and it is healthier to drink water and eat your electrolytes.  Also, drinking water without electrolytes during strenuous exercise can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, often characterized by swollen fingers and extremities.

R.W. Knudsen's Recharge


is an alternative that is actually marketed as a natural sports drink. Recharge


Coconut water has a very mild flavor, is naturally fat free, and has only 46 calories in an 8 ounce serving.  Best of all, coconut water has 15 times the potassium than a banana, along with 25 mg of magnesium, and 35 mg of sodium.  Coconut water is marketed under several brands, including Zico


and ONE


, and is available at most health food stores.

For natural hydration, water is still the best, cheapest, and most abundant alternative.  It is not the most convenient, however, as it requires that you somehow supplement the nissing electrolytes.  Coconut water, with its bolus of electrolytes and low calorie count, seems to be nature's most complete analog for sports drinks.




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