Meet Switchel, the Original Sports Drink — and Our Favorite Homemade, Natural Running Fuel
If you’re a regular No Meat Athlete blog reader, you’ll know that Matt is not prone to hyperbole. When he says something is “mind-blowing,” you take notice.
Just after we announced our new cookbook, Matt asked if I could share a few of the recipes with the NMA community. Excited, I flipped through my notes, went back and forth between a few workout fuel recipes, and emailed Matt for input.
He responded quickly, insisting I share this recipe for switchel.
“Seriously, the grape one was mind-blowing,” he said (again).
And I agree.
This sports drink recipe is a game changer. Having used switchel for going on two years now, I can say I’ll never go back to store-bought drinks again. Judging from his reaction, Matt likely won’t either.
My Search for the Perfect Homemade Sports Drink
I know what you’re thinking. Why make my own sports drink when it’s so easy to buy?
For me, it was the same reason I started eating dates on runs instead of gels and gummies. I’m a clean eater in real life, and my body was begging me to clean up my running fuel, too. Most common sports drinks, like Gatorade, contain processed sugars and artificial flavors, ingredients I want to avoid when putting my body through intense exercise.
As a distance runner, I knew I needed carbs to give me the energy to log all those miles, but my digestive system never liked what I put in. I had to reach a detente with my GI tract if I wanted to PR.
So I started experimenting. I made a few different homemade sports drinks that didn’t upset my stomach … but also weren’t too appealing.
Then I stumbled upon switchel. I can’t remember when exactly I first heard about it, but here in the organic farming and outdoor enthusiast epicenter that is Asheville, such things have a way of being common conversation. It sounded retro and cool, and the ingredient list was clean — with staples I already had in my pantry, like fruit juice, maple syrup, and apple cider vinegar.
I couldn’t find an exact recipe, so I used the ratio of carbs to electrolytes in a typical sports drink as my guide. After a few attempts, I had fine-tuned the recipe. It was perfect.
I spilled the beans about switchel to Matt who gave it a try during his next long run, and it was love at first sip.
The Original Sports Drink
Never heard of switchel? Well you’re about to, because we think it’s going to be all the rage.
Lucky Peach recently called it the “Gatorade of the eighteenth century,” because farmers would drink it in the fields to stay hydrated during the summer, and Cornell University’s Small Farms Program tells us that Herman Melville and Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about it, too.
Matt and I didn’t invent switchel — or haymaker’s punch, as it’s known by some — but we’re definitely on a mission to bring it back. This humble drink aligns with both of our whole-food, plant-based diet philosophies, and more importantly, it keeps me energized and prevents the dreaded bonk during a long training run.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s a heck of a lot cheaper per serving than the store-bought stuff?
A No Meat Athlete Spin on Switchel
What’s so beautiful about switchel is its simplicity. But, of course, there are ways to jazz it up — both in flavor and effectiveness.
We’ve included ten variations in the book that range from simple to sophisticated, but the one I’d like to share today is Matt’s favorite: Grape switchel.
Adding grape juice makes it taste just like grape Gatorade, and grape juice — in addition to providing the quick-burning carbs you need during your workout — has been shown to have a potentially ergogenic effect for runners, providing increased endurance, antioxidant support, and a possible reduction in inflammatory markers.
The drink is refreshing, mildly sweet, and tangy, and it tastes surprisingly like the convenience store sports drinks like we grew up with.
So what do you say? Here’s the recipe for you to give it a try:
Grape Switchel — Homemade Natural Sports Drink Recipe
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 4 cups (960 ml) water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 cup grape juice
- Shake then refrigerate overnight and drink.
- While you can drink the switchel right away if you’re in a hurry, it’s best to refrigerate it overnight to allow the flavors to mellow and mingle.
- This recipe makes an entire 32-ounce pitcher; it’ll keep for a few days in the fridge. I usually store it in a large canning jar with a lid so I can shake it all together and keep it covered as it chills.
- If you taste too much apple cider vinegar, reduce the amount in future batches until it’s to your liking.
- The recipe scales up or down easily, without affecting taste.
- One option is to mix everything but the water together and freeze in ice-cube trays, then portion them out into your hydration pack or bottles.
This recipe is perfect for long bike rides — just ask my husband, who uses it regularly — long runs, or hikes. I even use it throughout the day at work, since it doesn’t upset my stomach and I don’t tire of the taste.
Want More Homemade Running Fuel Recipes?
You’re in luck.
The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: 150 Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts and the Rest of Your Life has an entire chapter dedicated to recipes optimized for fueling your workout. It’s packed with simple, delicious foods like Calorie Bomb Cookies, Green Energy Bites, Umeboshi Electrolyte Drink, and a warm electrolyte broth for those winter long runs — plus lots of recipes for the rest of your life, too.
All tested and approved by your fellow NMAs.
Click here to order your copy now.
About the Author: Stepfanie Romine is co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: 150 Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts and the Rest of Your Life. Stepfanie is a yogi, a runner and a writer who has lived — and cooked — on three continents, as well as an ACE-certified health coach and registered yoga teacher. Find her at The Flexible Kitchen, on Instagram, or running the trails near Asheville, NC.
I may be missing something, but why do you strain it, if it’s all liquid? Not trying to sound like a smartass, I’m actually interested.
Yea, same question as Drake.
Any juice work ??
My question as well. Sorry, not a grape fan 🙂
Hi, Kate! You can try it with other juices. Hope you enjoy!
Thanks for another great recipe! I featured one of your homemade gels in my post about natural fueling options for runners, as it’s something I’ve tried myself and really benefitted from. http://betterthanalive.com/natural-fuel/ Thanks for all of your continued great advice!
Just curious. you have 4 cups water plus one cup grape juice = 5 cups. why is the serving size only 4 cups? Where did the other cup go? Can’t wait to try this. Thanks.
You’re totally right, Nancy. We pulled this from the manuscript, and it’s laid out differently in the book. Sorry about that!
Is that nutrition info PER cup? or for all 4 cups?
The nutrition info is for all 4 cups, yes.
wonderful, thank you for sharing a useful info
Love the sound of switchel and curious about giving it a go! I’m wondering about other juices/flavours. Can the measurements stay the same for something like orange juice? Can’t wait for the book to come out!
What about the other electrolytes aside from salt? When I make my own, I add regular table salt as well as “salt substitute,” which is mostly potassium chloride.
Also 1 cup juice plus 4 cups water is 40 oz.
I made this for my 8-miler today and it worked pretty well for me. I modified the recipe slightly by adding a teaspoon of tart cherry concentrate. Also, next time I will probably reduce the amount of apple cider vinegar. Thanks!
How long will this keep? Fir example in an Ironman or half ironman race?
Thanks, been looking for alternatives to Gatirade…
[…] a special event featuring a three-course meal based entirely on recipes in the books, including Switchel cocktails and […]
I have been makeing switchel for years with my son using flip top bottles and san pellegrino (bottle holds the fizz). we grate fresh ginger, turmeric and real “Wisconsin” maple syrup, mashing up strawberries or blueberries even peaches sometimes adding cinnamon, we mash it good and pour in bottles with Bragg’s ACV and chill for a day. SNAP fun to experiment with kids. P.S.- we never strain we to let it marinade for a day or two in all that mash.
How long before a ride or run should you drink this & how much should you drink. ?
I traded out the grape juice for no added sugar cranberry concentrate and added 1 tablespoon of maple syrup instead of 2 and it was actually great for my post run recovery drink after a half marathon.
What is the purpose of the vinegar? I’m really sensitive (averse) to the taste of ACV, so I’m wondering if I could swap I for lemon juice or something without losing out on any performance related attributes of ACV.
I made this for my first half-century bike ride (57 miles) and it got me through the distance, elevation, and heat. So grateful to have this instead of one of those commercial sports drinks.
Leave a Reply