Several months ago I wrote a post about my search for an effective homemade sports drink. (Yes, I do include my hydration source as part of my gear…sort of.) At the time I was dabbling with different formulas, and after some additional research and experimentation I’ve settled on one that has been working quite well for me. I realize this isn’t a topic of much concern to most players, as grabbing a Gatorade will more than suffice. And that’s fine—it’s been doing the job of hydrating athletes and getting dumped on winning coaches for more than 40 years.
But if you have a little do-it-yourself spirit, and are slightly obsessive about what you put into your body—what exactly is yellow 5?—then mixing your own brew is worthwhile. (I’ve also been working on some mighty tasty protein bars). Pros frequently use their own cocktails because they want to make sure they’re ingesting exactly what they need. Plus, if you compete often and pound commercial sports drinks, making your own can save a lot of money.
Now I’d like to preface this by saying I’m not a nutritionist, beverage expert, or chemist. In no way am I claiming to have cracked the “bonk” code and figured out how to prevent hitting the wall. This is my own concoction that I came to after much trial-and-error with various premade drinks (generally too sweet, artificial, and expensive), electrolyte tabs (no calories/energy), and gels (kind of gross).
It suits my needs as a player, which may be very different from yours. I play many competitive league and recreational matches that exceed two hours—often crossing what would normally be a meal—and I can’t get through them playing at my best with just water. If you’re a more casual player, or use tennis as a means of exercise to burn calories, this is probably not the drink for you. And it certainly shouldn’t be used in place of water as an everyday means for hydration. But for long battles that can test a player’s will, this easy four ingredient recipe will do the trick.
Base: Iced Tea (32oz.)
For some non-tea drinkers, this could be a deal-breaker. But I happen to like tea and find it easy on the stomach, even in large doses. It also doesn’t have the same guzzle factor as drinks like Gatorade—two changeovers and the bottle is empty. You could use any variety of real tea (green, mate, etc.), just not the fake powdered kind. I opt for simple Lipton’s Cool Brew. It’s inexpensive, takes only minutes to steep in cold water, and the black tea has the added benefit of a small, but helpful amount of caffeine which never hurts in trials of moderate endurance.
Sweetener/Carb: Raw Honey (2 tablespoons)
One of the reasons sports drinks are made to taste good is to promote consumption. This is often done with simple sugar, which also provides energy. If that’s your preference, you can certainly use it here, but I’ve been opting for raw honey which has less processing and matches well with tea. There are also supposedly more health benefits to honey, but there’s nothing definitive where athletics are concerned. It’s also sweeter than sugar and requires less of it, which helps the nutritional profile. On the downside, it doesn’t dissolve nearly as well in drinks and the raw varieties can be pricey. I use the Trader Joe’s brand which is fairly reasonable.
Complex Carb: Maltodextrin (2 scoops/approximately 28 grams)
This stuff, basically corn starch, is snuck into too many of our foods and is generally something I try to avoid. However, it’s a long-chain carbohydrate that breaks down over time and gives the body more sustained energy than a simple sugar. When engaged in prolong exercise this can be a real benefit, and why you see it combined with faster acting sugars on the ingredients labels of many sports drinks. It’s also fairly tasteless and easily mixes in liquid to raise the carb content without making it overly sweet. I use CytoCarb II by Ctyomax.
Electrolyte: Sea Salt (1/4 teaspoon)
One of the things I recently discovered (the hard way) is that electrolytes actually do very little to prevent muscle cramping. Their primary role is to aid in hydration. Potassium and magnesium are also popular additives to sports drinks, but I just use sodium chloride. From what I’ve read, salt is clearly the most important electrolyte in terms of hydration. The type I use does have trace amounts of various other electrolytes, but not to the levels that it would make much of a difference.
Here’s how to make the drink: Warm up 8 oz. of water and dissolve the honey. Then combine with 24 oz. of cold water in a pitcher and let it sit in the refrigerator for a half hour until completely chilled. Seep one Cool Brew tea bag in the pitcher for about 5 minutes. Then remove the tea bag and add the maltodextrin and the salt. Stir. Transfer the drink into any 32 oz. water bottle, jug, or container. (I pour it into empty plastic seltzer bottles with the help of a funnel). Refrigerate until used.
In much of my reading about sports drinks I kept coming across the term osmolality. This refers to the number of particles in a solution. Drinks that have about the same content as the body’s fluids—termed isotonic—empty the stomach faster and are best for overall hydration and nutrient absorption. The magic number for sports drinks seems to be around 6%-8% carbohydrate solution. That’s essentially how I came up with this approximate nutritional profile:
Size: 32 oz.
Sodium: 560 mg
At each changeover I take two swigs of the drink and two swigs of water from a separate cooler. Depending on the length of the match, I usually get through one bottle over two sets. So far it hasn’t let me down. Give it a try and let me know what you think. You can thank me when it’s 5-5 in the third set and you’re feeling just fine. And if you have your own homemade hydration drink that works wonders, please share it in the comments below. Maybe you've stumbled onto something even better.