The Scoop on Beverages

April 21, 2017

Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas offers tips on what to sip during training

I often have clients wondering what types of beverages they should be drinking during training. Today, we are going to clear up the confusion surrounding some of the popular beverages and get you on the right track to better performance. Popular beverage choices include:

Tart cherry juice concentrate

Tart cherries are becoming a trendy food in the health and fitness industry and for good reason. Tart cherries are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. One of the phytochemicals, called anthocyanin, appears to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These anti-inflammatory effects may aid in reducing muscle soreness after workouts. Some individuals have noticed improvements in arthritis-related pain as well. 

Take 2-4 Tbsp. of tart cherry juice concentrate daily. Dosing after workouts appears to be most beneficial. On non-workout days, dose at any time of the day. There are many ways tart cherry juice concentrate can be incorporated into your meal plan.

Incorporating tart cherry juice concentrate:
• Add into smoothies
• Mix into yogurt, cottage cheese or Kefir (drinkable yogurt)
• Infuse into water or tea
• Flavor milk or soy milk
• Make into a homemade salad dressing or meat marinade

Possible side effects:
Cherries naturally contain sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols may cause gas, cramping or diarrhea in certain individuals. My advice is to start off with a small dose (~1 Tbsp.) of tart cherry juice concentrate and work up to 2-4 Tbsp. daily. I would avoid taking it before workouts, due to possible GI distress. 

Beetroot juice

Beetroot juice is a natural source of dietary nitrates. Nitrates consumed from beets are converted to nitric oxide (NO) within the body. NO acts as a vasodilator, which enables blood and oxygen to be delivered more efficiently to our cells and muscle tissues. The increased delivery of blood and oxygen could potentially improve endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise. Studies have also revealed the benefits of NO on reducing blood pressure.

Current research suggests consuming ~16 oz. of beetroot juice approximately 2.5 hours prior to competition. Sixteen oz. of beetroot juice provides ~400 mg of nitrates. Beet It® is a brand of beetroot juice and sport bars that can be found at grocery stores, online or at health food stores. BeetElite® is a powdered beetroot product that can be used in place of beetroot juice. Take either one packet or two scoops of BeetElite® 30-45 minutes prior to your workout. See if you can spot these beetroot products the next time you are shopping.

Possible side effects:
Beetroot juice is generally well tolerated. However, individuals can start with smaller doses and gradually work up to the full dose. Abdominal cramping and diarrhea have been reported by individuals sensitive to beetroot juice. 

Sports drinks

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade® and Powerade®, are one of the most popular beverages consumed by active individuals. The primary goal for these drinks is to replenish the fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates that are being used by the body during exercise. 

Sports drinks are best utilized for intense workouts lasting longer than 45 minutes. Aim for ~16 oz. per hour of intense exercise. For a quick reference, a mouthful of water is roughly 1 oz. of fluid. For lower intensity workouts or short duration workouts (<45 minutes), water is likely be the best rehydration option.

Possible side effects:
Be cautious not to overconsume sports beverages during your workout. This may actually lead to more muscle cramping, due to the fluid diluting our body’s sodium levels. Further, overconsumption may also lead to GI distress (cramping, diarrhea, etc.) during exercise.

Chocolate milk

Chocolate milk is often touted as being one of the best recovery beverages on the market. Let’s take a look at why this may be the case. Chocolate milk contains protein, carbohydrates, calcium, sodium and potassium, which are beneficial nutrients for recovery. Individuals are often surprised to find out that per cup, chocolate milk has more electrolytes than most sport beverages. Here’s a comparison of a sports beverage versus chocolate milk. 

Sports drink (16 oz.)  
Sodium = 213 mg
Potassium = 60 mg
Carbohydrates = 28 grams
Protein = 0 grams
Cost = ~$1.50

Chocolate milk (16 oz.)
Sodium = 320 mg
Potassium = 860 mg
Carbohydrates = 50 grams
Protein = 16 grams
Cost = 43 cents

It’s best to utilize chocolate milk as a post-exercise beverage. Roughly 16 oz. of chocolate milk can provide a nice recovery boost.

Possible Side Effects:
Some individuals are sensitive to lactose, which is the natural sugar found in dairy products. Individuals who are sensitive may experience gas, bloating or diarrhea shortly after consuming milk or dairy products. If you are sensitive to dairy, try chocolate soy milk or a lactose-free version of chocolate milk.

Making the right beverage choice can offer a great boost for your training. Sip well and enjoy!

Lee Hyrkas is a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health. Lee’s goal is to assist individuals in maximizing their performance and health. To schedule a one-on-one consultation, please contact Lee at or (920) 430-4728.

Ivy, J (2015). Dietary Nitrate: Effect on Exercise Performance and Training Adaptation. [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from
. Mueller, K., & Hingst, J. (2013). The athlete's guide to sports supplements. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

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