It’s May, and for most people that means its time to get serious about getting your body into better shape. Prime beach weather is closer than you think, and you’re probably starting to get serious about hitting the gym regularly. But overdoing your workout can do more harm than good. In fact, your athletic performance starts to suffer once you lose about 2 percent of your body weight due to profuse sweating…and that takes less effort than you might think.

If you plan to work out for over 60 minutes, you need to drink something more substantial than water afterwards. Lose too much water from exercising, and you can start to experience cramps, dizziness, and headaches as your body has to go into overdrive to keep your core temperature stable and your heart functioning normally as your blood begins to thicken to dehydration. And if you don’t rehydrate properly, you might find that your muscles are weak the next day, impairing your ability to lift weights.

If you’re trying to sculpt a beach body, it’s important to drink the right post-workout beverage to rehydrate, replenish lost nutrients, and consume adequate protein to promote muscle growth. Plain water is good, but some other product might be better. But the diet aisle of your local supermarket has got dozens of post-workout hydration beverages to choose from. So which one is right for you?

NOTE: The assessments below are based on my own opinions, personal experiences, and research. None of the products/companies mentioned below provided samples for review or have otherwise influenced the content of this article.

Milk

Okay, so maybe suggesting milk after a workout makes you think of Will Ferrell in “Anchorman,” moaning “Milk was a bad choice!”

And while the idea of chugging milk after a hard workout on a hot day might sound miserable, it has been argued that milk is a great beverage to quaff after hitting the gym. In a lot of ways, milk has it all: carbohydrates, electrolytes, calcium and vitamin D…and the all-important protein.

According to Emma Cockburn, a lecturer at Northumbria University in northeast England, “The damage caused by exercise leads to a breakdown of the protein structures in your muscles, but that doesn’t happen until 24 to 48 hours later.” If you drink milk right after training, it will be digested and absorbed by the time your body needs it to repair muscle damage. It’s worth remembering that Michael Phelps famously chugged milk between events at the Beijing Olympics.

Sports Drinks

There are as many types of fruity flavored sports drinks as there are brands of soda, and sadly, they both often have similar amounts of sugar. While they can replenish vital electrolytes, vitamins, and fluids, all that sugar post-workout can leave you feeling more jittery. Whenever possible, opt for a reduced calorie sports drink over the regular kind, as this will have less sugar, and therefore fewer calories.

Cheribundi

Cheribundi’s “Whey Cherry” tart cherry juice contains phytonutrients, anthocyanins, phenolic acids…in other words, compounds that refuel a tired body, reduce inflammation from over-exertion, and aids in muscle recovery. Whey protein is added for an extra muscle building benefits, and the cherry juice gives you 100% of your daily needs for a number of B vitamins. An 8 oz. serving has 160 calories. The taste takes some getting used to, as it is very tart, but the health benefits are worth it.

SmartWater

If you want electrolytes after a workout but are trying to reduce your caloric intake, consider zero calorie SmartWater, which consists only of vapor distilled water and electrolytes (Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, and Potassium Bicarbonate, to be specific.)

It doesn’t contain any protein, as in some other sports recovery beverages, but for exercise that is less about building muscle and more about maintaining tone or losing excess pounds, it can still be a good choice for rehydration, and is still superior to plain tap water.

Beer

According to a study at Granada University in Spain, a pint of beer is better at rehydrating the body after a workout than the same amount of water. Researchers argue that the carbon dioxide in beer helps quench thirst faster than water, the carbs in the beer replace calories (generally between 90-150 calories per serving in beer) burned during exercise, and trace salts and sugars in the beer replace lost nutrients.

On the other hand, alcohol can have diuretic properties, so don’t rely on beer alone. If you want to experiment with beer as a post-workout beverage, perhaps try a beer after having a small amount of water, and follow the beer directly by an equal amount of water.

Conclusion

To stay well hydrated for exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you:

Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.
Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (0.12 to 0.23 liters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. You may need more the larger your body is or the warmer the weather is.
Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

How you choose to hydrate is completely up to you. Whether you need low-cal refreshment, or a heavy dash of protein to aid in muscle recovery, the good news is that there are plenty of post-workout recovery beverages for you to sample.

What do you drink after a hard workout? Tell us in the comments below!

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