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Your Homemade Sports Drink: Better Than The Store Brand

A homemade sports drink made from healthy ingredients can be far more effective at keeping your athletic endeavors rolling than anything you can buy in a store.

The reason is simple - most sports drinks have the goal of getting you to drink more of their product, with your athletic performance being of secondary concern. When you make your own, your goal comes first.

Your Homemade Sports Drink: What A Good Drink Needs

At its most basic, the goal of a good sports drink is to keep an athlete's supply of water, sugar and electrolytes sufficiently high for them to maintain maximum performance for the duration of their game, training, or other physical endeavor.

These elements are normally supplied by our meals, but when we're running a marathon or engaged in a fast-paced game of basketball, we need to refuel on the fly and can't have a large amount of food digesting in our gut.

Why do we need these elements?

Electrolytes: They allow you to maintain a steady voltage across your cell membranes and to carry electric impulses. As electrolyte balance drops during strenuous exercise, our ability to send these impulses between cells is impaired and muscle contractions become weaker. Your performance will be seriously impaired if you don't restock your supply.

There are eight major electrolytes found in the body, but the ones of major concern when it comes to athletic performance are potassium and sodium.

Sugar: Simple sugars (a subtype of carbohydrate) such as the glucose in fruit fuel every cell in your body, from your muscles to your brain. Even if you use a complex sources of carbohydrates - such as starchy potatoes or grains - your body must go through a rather laborious process to turn it into simple sugars so it can be used. 

Homemade Sports Drink Kyaking

If you're in good shape, you'll use between 3 and 4 grams of carbohydrates a minute during intense and continuous exercise. Your body draws this from its store of muscle glycogen. Just how much of a reserve you have depends on your size.

A trim 150 pound male who has fueled up his body properly can expect to have 390-410 grams of muscle glycogen in reserve.

This means that his supply will be depleted in less than two hours of intense activity, after which his body would switch to using his blood sugar. This supply does not last long, and it's likely that before or not long after the two hour mark he will "hit the wall", and have his performance drastically impaired.

Restocking your sugar supply through your homemade sports drink mid game is critical to staying competitive.

Water: The dangers of dehydration are well known to the general public. We lose a lot of water through perspiration during exercise, and unless you stay hydrated the consequences can be dire. Despite years of warnings from doctors, it's still common to have several cases of high school sports players dropping dead during a practice in the summer heat every year. But Even in the best-case scenario, dehydration leads to impaired performance.

 So Why Is Your Homemade Sports Drink Superior to the Commercial Brand?

Once you become familiar with the tactics used by sports-drink formulators to keep you swilling, you'll likely be disgusted.

The Key To Their Success: Salt, And Lots Of It.

Homemade Sports Drink SaltYou've probably heard a coach or other authority figure harp on the need to drink enough water to stave off dehydration during exercise. They're correct about it being a major concern, because athletes often fail to drink enough water and sometimes pass our or die.

So sports-drink formulators have come up with an ingenious way to get you to drink more (supposedly for your safety, but equally because it means you buy more of their product). All they need to do is add lots of salt.

When salt is added to a drink, people consume a lot more of it. The formulators note this increased intake of liquid as the reason they add so much salt. It sounds like they're virtuously fighting against dehydration.

Yet if we stop to think a moment, we realize how this idea will quickly lead us to a dangerous dead end. What does salt do? It dehydrates us. People quickly die if they drink too much salt water from the ocean. What do they die of? Dehydration. Despite drinking it with tons of water, the salt is so dehydrating that they die.

So yes, salt makes us thirsty and we do drink more after consuming it, but we do so at the cost of dehydrating ourselves, the very thing drinking liquid is supposed to fight off. Consuming salt always means a net loss in hydration.

You can learn more about the dangers of consuming salt here, and the importance of staying hydrated here.

We do require sodium to continue to function at our best, but not nearly the level provided by commercial sports drinks.

Not Enough Sugar:

What food satisfies hunger better than any other? Simple sugars. Formulators found athletes drank less of a sports drink (hurting their bottom line, and possibly causing dehydration) when they were sweet, so they went with tasteless complex carbohydrates instead.

The Final Formulation:

And so they came upon their formula - brilliantly mixing salt water that doesn't quench your thirst and complex carbohydrates that won't satisfy your hunger. And why does it sell so well? Because of how well it doesn't satisfy our needs. You have to keep coming back for more, but more is never enough. It's brilliant, really.

Choose A Homemade Sports Drink Instead

Anyone with a good blender can whip up a homemade sports drink far superior to anything made in a factory. How? Raw fruits, raw vegetables, and water.

The fruit supplies you with the electrolyte potassium and the simple sugars you need to restore blood sugar and glycogen. The vegetable gives you the modest amount of sodium you need along with other important minerals. The water hydrates, without the attached impairment of carrying tons of dehydrating salt.

Why A Homemade Sports Drink Works So Well

  1. Fruit digests extremely quickly, and glucose sugars from fruit will start to enter your blood steam just minutes after they hit the stomach. Compared to the uptake time of complex carbohydrates, it's night and day.
  2. Vegetables, such as celery, supply you with sodium that easy to digest. This amount is very modest compared to the salt found in most food and commercial sports drinks, and will not dehydrate you. 
  3. Fruit will satisfy your hunger but won't won't sit in your stomach in a cramp-causing lump for long periods of time.

The Best Fruit and Vegetables For Your Homemade Sports Drink

Homemade Sports Drink Banana

You can choose whatever fruits and vegetables you like. I suggest you don't  blend more than one type of fruit with one type of vegetable for the sake of easy digestion and proper food combining.

In the vegetable category, I like celery the best because of its high sodium content and quick digestion. You may have success with various high-electrolyte leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach, however.

You'll want fruit that are fairly high in calories. The banana is usually a good choice, but don't feel like you have to limit yourself. I've used several dozen varieties of fruit successfully.

It's important that your fruit is properly ripened. Bananas, for instance, are not ready to be eaten before they are spotted with brown. Eating them while still green means they're still more starch than sugar, and indigestion and gas may result during a sporting event, which won't be fun.

How Much Water To Blend With Your Homemade Sports Drink

The major variation from one homemade sports drink to another will be the thickness. Cramping is a major concern when eating too much bulk, so you want to make sure you blend in enough water to suit the occasion.

Generally, endurance sports such as sprinting or long-distance running pose the greatest chance of cramping, and you'll want the most water added to blends for these events.

If your activity does not require a ton of fast movement, such as weight lifting, you can afford to drink thicker sports drinks that resemble smoothies.

So what's the best water to fruit ratio? It will vary greatly depending on the water content of the fruit.

For instance, I add no water to my watermelon-celery blend because watermelon is over 90 percent water, and it doesn't need it.

If you're running, a maximum of two medium bananas for every quart of water is probably a good starting place. If you won't be very active, you can make your drink much thicker.

Everyone's digestive system is at a different state of robustness, and experimentation will help you find the best combination for your homemade sports drink.

What's Worked For Me?

Homemade Sports Drink RunWhen I started training for my first marathon in 2008, I tried lots of different fruit and vegetable varieties.

First I started off with bananas, but probably due to my old affliction of colitis, I've never been able to handle them well. The majority of raw food athletes I know rely on these as a homemade sports drink staple, so I don't want to put you off to them.

The problem made me look elsewhere for solutions, however. The one I settled on for my marathon was celery and watermelon, and I went through three water bottles full of the mixture doing the race. It kept me extremely energetic and caused no cramping.

Since then, I've discovered that creating soak water from dried and semi-dried fruit is a good way to eliminate the chance of cramps because little fiber gets in. Basically, I soak dates or raisins in water overnight. The next morning I pour the water into my blender to add in the celery. This mixture I put in my water bottle. Most of the dried fruit stays behind, and I usually blend this into a post-activity recovery smoothie.

If you're not running, you probably don't need to leave out the fruit pulp. A thick mixture of whole dates, water, and celery recently kept me fueled during a 5-hour strenuous river kayaking trip. I was really impressed at how full of energy I remained despite paddling almost continuously. Everything digested very well.

Your Homemade Sports Drink: Following Up

Pick up the best blender for making a homemade sports drink.

Learn about a healthy raw food diet that will fuel your athletic endeavors.


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