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Try these alternatives to sugary sports drinks

Mar. 1, 2013 - 08:54AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 1, 2013 - 08:54AM  |  
These beverages are recommended as good alternatives to sports drinks.
These beverages are recommended as good alternatives to sports drinks. ()
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A lot of news has been going around about the perceived dangers of some supplement drinks with performance-enhancing claims, and you've begun to realize your sports drink may not amount to much more than calories in a bottle. So what can you quaff for a boost? We rounded up seven with science to back them up.

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A lot of news has been going around about the perceived dangers of some supplement drinks with performance-enhancing claims, and you've begun to realize your sports drink may not amount to much more than calories in a bottle. So what can you quaff for a boost? We rounded up seven with science to back them up.

Chocolate milk

High in vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A and iron, it's the "ideal post-workout recovery drink," declares a 2011 University of Texas study that praises chocolate milk for its ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.

Body performance: "Serious and amateur athletes alike enjoyed physical recovery benefits when they drank low-fat chocolate milk after a vigorous workout," says lead University of Texas researcher Dr. John Ivy. Participants saw more muscle gains and less fat, plus improved workout times, over those consuming carb-based sports drinks.

Mind performance: Chocolate elevates the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. Vitamin D has been shown to improve cognitive test performance among older adults and help with some mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder and PMS.

Heart health: Several studies show that cocoa can lower high blood pressure and cut "bad" cholesterol levels. It's also linked to reductions in diabetes risk factors.

Weight loss and other benefits: "Eat This, Not That" weight-loss guru David Zinczenko describes chocolate milk as "one of the most powerful weight-loss tools in the nutritional universe." He points to recent research on calcium impeding fat absorption, among other factors, in his "Chocolate Milk Diet."

Drink up: Experts recommend 8 to 14 ounces, depending on body size, of low-fat chocolate milk immediately after exercise and then again two hours later.

Coffee

High in antioxidants and, of course, caffeine, java has been lauded for energy-boosting benefits for years. But you may be surprised at some of its other perks.

Body performance: Caffeine acts as a natural bronchodilator, opening airways and relaxing respiratory muscles, which increases airflow into and out of the lungs. Caffeine intake also releases more calcium to muscles, improving speed, acceleration and endurance.

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Mind performance: Caffeine increases dopamine, which enhances pleasure and increases alertness, cognitive ability, and problem-solving capacity. Coffee also may offer some protection against depression, according to a new study. Earlier studies have linked coffee drinking with lower suicide risk.

Heart health: Java can help reduce the chances of heart failure by as much as 11 percent, according to a 2012 study published by the American Heart Association.

Weight loss and other benefits: Caffeine amps up metabolism and creates a thermogenic effect to burn extra calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, coffee also can help protect against Parkinson's disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.

Drink up: Most experts suggest limiting coffee intake to two to four cups per day. More than four cups or 600mg a day can lead to insomnia, irritability and nervousness. Avoid caffeine products after 3 p.m.

Green tea

Green tea is especially rich in catechins, micronutrients that appear to have cancer-fighting and other health-promoting properties.

Body performance: Catechins can reduce muscle damage from exercise and speed recovery. Widely hailed as an energy booster, a recent study from Oregon State University found that green tea also can amp up your immune system.

Mind performance: Even caffeine-free green tea is believed to boost mental alertness. It's also been associated with increased function in old age.

Heart health: Regular drinkers have been shown to lower risk of a heart attack by 11 percent. Antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease.

Weight loss and other benefits: Five cups per day can double weight loss gains, particularly for belly fat, according to some studies. Green tea may also help prevent gastric, pancreatic, bladder and ovarian cancers, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Drink up: Be sure to steep tea bags for at least three minutes to release more catechins.

Beer and wine

Beer and wine have served as health-giving elixirs since the dawn of recorded history. Red wine is abundant in the antioxidant resveratrol, while beer is loaded with vitamins and nutrients.

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Body performance: Researchers at Tufts University found that regular beer and wine drinkers enjoyed higher bone density. More than two drinks a day, however, seems to have the reverse effect, increasing your chance of fractures.

Mind performance: Older women who regularly enjoyed about one beer or glass of wine a day lowered their risk of mental decline by as much as 20 percent compared with nondrinkers, according a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Heart health: Studies link moderate alcohol consumption with lower rates of coronary heart disease by as much as 50 percent. Beer is just as heart-healthy as wine, according to a 2011 analysis.

Weight loss and other benefits: Regularly drinking wine, but not beer, was found to protect against the common cold in a 2002 study. Also, men who drink beer or wine can cut their chances of getting kidney stones by as much as 39 percent, according to a 1996 study in the Journal of American Epidemiology.

Drink up: For the health benefits, experts recommend one or two drinks at meal time, once per day.

Coconut water

High in antioxidants and electrolytes, but don't confuse it with coconut milk, which contains fat. More potassium than a banana, less sugar than sports drinks.

Body performance: Coconut water is as good for performance and rehydrating as regular water and sports drinks, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Mind performance: The B vitamins in coconut water — including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B-6 and folate — have been linked to stress relief and reducing depression.

Heart health: Potassium can help lower high blood pressure.

Weight loss and other benefits: High potassium means coconut water will help relieve muscle cramping after a workout.

Drink up: After heavy exercise, consider adding a dash of salt.

Veggie and fruit juices

We're all supposed to eat seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day, but most of us don't get half that. Juicing can help, experts say. Do it yourself to create your own blends or try a growing variety of off-the-shelf brands. Think of it as your multivitamin in a glass.

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Body performance: Fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources for vitamins and micronutrients. Vitamin C, for example — found in quantities in green peppers, kiwi and strawberries — helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps gums healthy. Vitamin A — plentiful in spinach, kale and collard greens — is critical for warding off infection and keeping skin healthy.

Mind performance: Glucose, derived from complex carbohydrates such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, collard greens, red peppers and broccoli, is fuel for the brain. Oxygen-balancing micronutrients — which help keep the brain properly tuned — can be found in blueberries and blackberries, citrus fruits and greens and cruciferous veggies such as kale.

Heart health: Get enough fruit and veggies, and you're 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Potassium, critical for good blood pressure, is found in tomatoes, carrots and prunes.

Weight loss and other benefits: V-8 drinkers lost four times as much weight, in one recent study, as those who didn't drink a veggie drink (but the Mayo Clinic warns against relying on fad juicer diets). According to a 2011 study, those who drank veggie-fruit blends saw skin improvements, including a 39 percent increase in microcirculation, 9 percent more hydration and a 6 percent increase in thickness.

Drink up: If you're making your own, be sure to add pulp back into the mix for fiber. Don't overdo it with fruit juice, which can pack more sugar than soda. Instead, try using fruit more as a sweetener to offset some of the more bitter — but nutrient-dense — green stuff.

Fish oil/omega-3s

Yes, you can drink fish oil. It's an oil, after all. Supplement maker Nordic Naturals has started offering an effervescent, orange-flavored drink mix made from cod oil. Of course, it's the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that you're after, and a variety of drinkable sources are now on the market that range from milk to drinks blended from the chia plant.

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Body performance: Think of fish oil as lubricant for the body. It helps keep joints moving freely and helps decrease inflammation when there are problems.

Mind performance: Long considered a "brain food," fish oil now is being used to help with depression, traumatic brain injury, psychosis, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer's disease and other brain problems. A three-year, $10 million Defense Department-funded study starting at the Medical University of South Carolina is testing whether omega-3 drinks can relieve anxiety and depression.

Heart health: Fish oil gets high marks from the National Institutes of Health in reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, and may help with high blood pressure.

Weight loss and other benefits: Some new research shows that a daily dose of fish oil can significantly reduce body fat when combined with exercise. A 2006 study found fish oil is just as good as ibuprofen for relieving arthritic pain, and it also appears to be a safer alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating neck and back pain. A 2011 study out of Indiana University found that diets rich in omega-3s can curb alcohol abuse.

Drink up: For general use, most experts recommend 1 to 4 grams of fish oil per day, with a mix of the DHA and LHA types. One successful weight-loss study used 6 grams of a high-DHA fish oil daily, with 260mg DHA per gram and 60mg of the EPA type per gram.

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