Best (and Worst) Drinks for Before and After Your Workout Slideshow

What to Drink: Water

If you’re not guzzling water before, during, and after your workout, you’re hurting yourself in the long run. And the real problem is that most people — including professional athletes — are dehydrated before they even begin a workout. One study recently looked at a group of college football players preparing for NFL scouts, and found that 98 percent of them were dehydrated the morning of the evaluation. And when you’re dehydrated, the experts say, your performance during, say, a 10-mile run or a heavy-duty workout, is decreased by 25 percent. So how much water should you be drinking? At least two to two-and-a-half 8-ounce glasses up to two hours before your workout, one 8-ounce glass 15 minutes before, and one 8-ounce glass every 15 minutes during your workout, the experts say. That way, you can fight dehydration and sweat losses early on. 

What to Drink: Coffee

Surprised? We were, too. But it turns out that a little dose of caffeine can help increase endurance, boost your workout (especially if you don’t work out much), and even help relieve post-workout soreness. Plus, caffeine can reduce your perception of pain and exertion if you’re, say, lifting weights. A study of men lifting weights found that those who drank a liquid with the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee were able to complete more reps when bench-pressing. How does it work? Caffeine blocks pain signals from your muscles to your brain. Try an espresso shot about a half-hour before your workout, or a post-workout cup of joe. The experts recommend 2.3 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight about an hour before your workout, to get the most out of your coffee. And provided you don’t drink a ton of coffee, it won’t dehydrate you too much post-workout. Hey, if Michael Jordan was doing it back in his heyday, we can imagine you’ll like the results from a cup of joe, too.

What to Drink: Sports Drinks

The effectiveness of sports drinks has been hotly debated, but most can agree: if you work out for less than one hour as a "recreational" exerciser, chances are you don’t need a sports drink. When you really need a sports drink to replenish your fluids is after an intense, sweaty workout, after a hot run or bike ride, for example. A sports drink will help your body gain back lost carbohydrates and electrolytes; plus, the sodium in it makes you thirstier, and the combination of glucose and salt helps your body absorb water and hydrate faster. 

What to Drink: Cherry Juice

No, not the cherry juice cocktail (obviously). But one drink to get a lot of workout buzz recently is tart cherry juice. The antioxidants in cherries, namely the  flavanoids and anthyocyanins, can alleviate inflammation and swelling post-workout. A study from the U.K. found that runners who regularly drank cherry juice before and after a workout had faster muscle recovery. 

What to Drink: Beer

Now we know why those beer and running clubs are so popular: researchers in Spain found that beer can rehydrate the body faster than a sports drink or water. Just like chocolate milk, beer has the right combination of carbs and protein to help the body recover faster and rehydrate faster. And bonus points, the beer also alleviated post-workout aches and pains (because well, it's beer). 

What to Drink: Chocolate Milk

The drink of Olympic champions — and clearly, they’re doing something right — chocolate milk has the right amount of protein and carbohydrates to replenish tired muscles. (One study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that milk-based protein promotes muscle protein synthesis better than soy-based protein.) Plus, the amount of sugar and sodium in milk is just enough to boost insulin levels for the body to retain water and regain energy. 

What Not To Drink: Energy Drinks

Even though caffeine is a known stimulant for a workout, there’s one ingredient that can kill a workout fast — sugar. And energy drinks are chock-full of sugar; and they’re not great for rehydration because the huge amount of caffeine acts as a diuretic. Don’t believe the hype: an energy drink won’t boost your workout. 

What to Drink: Coconut Water

Some proclaim that coconut water is the "all-natural sports drink," but it’s not as perfect as you think. Some studies have shown that coconut water may rehydrate you better than water or sports drinks — but you have to drink a lot more of it to get the same results as drinking water. And while most tout the huge amount of potassium in coconut water, it’s lacking in sodium and carbohydrates, two other essential nutrients that need to be replenished post-workout. (And in the past, coconut water labels have over-exaggerated the amount of potassium, carbohydrates, and sodium levels in the drinks.) But most agree that if you’re working out recreationally and not partaking in long workouts (i.e. a marathon), coconut water is a safe choice. If you’re going for a much harder workout, a sports drink — or better yet, a banana or salty pretzels — may be a better option to replenish lost carbohydrates and sodium.