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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frugal Athletes: Make Your Own Sports Drinks.

By Mr. FS

It’s summer, and the sales of various sports drinks are certain to increase dramatically. But even during the coldest days I see people toting their bottles of Powerade, Gatorade, and so forth. Are they worth it? Of course not. (As part of the research for this posting I was going to look at brands and prices at our local grocery store, but I decided it wasn’t necessary: they’re overpriced, for sure.)

Current research indicates that sports drinks aren’t even necessary except when exercising intensively for an hour or more. In most cases water is as good, or better. And in any case, what are you paying for? What adds the “power” or “sport” to these drinks? Basically two things: simple carbohydrates (often as high fructose corn syrup) and “electrolytes” (mainly potassium), and in some cases a few vitamins (which you could get for pennies in a multivitamin) or caffeine (which you could get with a nice espresso).

So if you really do need a “power” or “sport” drink, why not make one yourself? It’s couldn’t be easier. All you do is add sugar and Morton Lite salt to water (or tea), and flavor it however you want (generic unsweetened “koolaid,” etc.). Morton Lite salt (or any “lite” salt) is half sodium chloride and half potassium chloride—and so provides the potassium that’s the backbone of any so-called sports drink.

Here’s one recipe:

10 tbs sugar
¾ tsp lite salt (i.e., with half potassium chloride)
2 litres of water
Koolaid or whatever to taste

What I like about home-made sports drinks is that you can vary the amount of sugar/potassium. If it’s very hot, and I’m going on a long, hard bike ride, I cut back on the sugar, since what I want is a higher proportion of liquid to carbs. You can only absorb a limited number of calories per hour, so you don’t want more than you can burn during and shortly after the exercise. If it’s cool, I may up the sugar content, but lower the potassium, since I’m using the same amount of energy, but sweating less. I’m not sure that it really makes much difference, to tell the truth, but it’s fun to play around with, and helps—if only psychologically—to keep you in touch with your body. The best part, of course, is that this sort of sport drink costs literally pennies, and there are no bottles or cans to recycle or clutter up landfills.

By the way, there are also many great substitutes for those ludicrously over-priced ”power” bars, which are, like the sports drinks, just carbs and salt. Best is probably the humble banana (because of the potassium), or the equally humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but almost anything with complex carbs, a bit of sugar (simple carbs) for quick energy, and a bit of salt does just fine.


Duchesse said...

Nice tip! I carry water, as am not an endurance athlete. And if I'm ingesting 10tbs of sugar- that's over half a cup!- I'd like something with more food value. Like... a piece of chocolate cake?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse: Water is actually best for almost everyone, and you're right, 10 tbs is a lot of sugar, which is why it's nice to be able to make your own, less caloric drink. Chocolate cake, along with some water, would in fact be just about a perfect work-out repast (since it includes simple as well as complex carbs).