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Beverages of choice

It's the most wonderful time of the year -- for eating lots of junk food.

Generally speaking, most endurance athletes are in the height of their off seasons and, from what I'm told, gaining weight during this time is a good thing. Still, there's a difference between putting a few extra pounds and being incapacitated by food and so like others, I try to balance indulging in cookies, cakes and holiday cheer with healthy eating habits.

But apparently, grabbing a designer water or sports drink for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack might not be such a great idea.

An interesting article on MSNBC.com looks broadly at sports drinks, particularly if they help people during exercise.

The bottom line -- yes they can, if you're exercising for a long duration and at high intensities.

But looking at what you're drinking and understanding why is important. Electrolyte drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, help with hydration and cramping. But they also contain quite a dose of calories and sugar, which, as the article points out, is great if you're leaving it all out on the road, bike or bicycle court but not so good if you're choosing it to go with your lunch.

Enhanced waters offer some hydration benefits, but as far as a drink during exercise goes fails to have enough sodium to help with endurance and recovery. Also, a little known fact, the NCAA apparently banned some varieties of VitaminWater "because their signature ingredients (caffeine, taurine, guarana seed extract, glucosamine, theanine, green tea extract and ECGC) are considered 'impermissible or banned substances' by the association. Normal consumption of these drinks would probably not put an athlete at risk of testing positive for the substance."

Still, good thing I don't have any collegiate eligibility remaining.

The piece also examined coconut water (good for not upsetting stomaches), cherry juice (better for pre- or post-workout), chocolate milk (best post-workout) and plain old water.

As with any piece of training, hydration is trial and error based on what works for you. I like to use Gatorade Endurance for hour-long workouts. Very long bike rides, I switch to Accelerade while after workouts chocolate milk is perhaps my favorite beverage.

I'll try to stick to water with my lunch, though, and get my extra calories from holiday cookies for now.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz

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