Drinking and training generally do not mix well. Ask anyone who has attempted a hard morning workout after a night out; you start exercising dehydrated and things tend to go south from there.

With Labor Day around the corner, and numerous parties and social events on the calendar, what’s an athlete to do?  One option is to adopt a “one and done” stance- choose to have one amazing drink, whether it’s your favorite craft beer or a good old dirty martini. Another option is to make your own healthy-ish drinks from scratch, starting with a simple syrup that is made with honey or agave nectar and mixing in fresh fruit and liquor. And a third option is to try one of the low-cal drink options that are being marketed to everyone these days. Miller 64 and Skinny Girl Cocktails both claim to be low-cal and have great taste; Miller 64 even goes so far as to feature athletes singing along to their jingle while working out. I personally approach alcoholic drinks with the same care that I do my daily nutrition: I prefer good, whole, natural ingredients and try to avoid anything processed or with ingredients I cannot pronounce.

Option 1:  Easy
No time? You can easily pick up a bottle of something premixed, but make sure you read the label or do your research. Skinny Girl Cocktails Margarita (in a bottle) is what we chose to taste-test. Sure, you can make an easy lo-cal margarita at home- just use fresh lime juice, triple sec, tequila, and ice, but buying a pre-made version like the Skinny Girl brand is as easy as it gets.

Heads up: although I tried researching online and read every inch of the bottle, there is no ingredient list available anywhere, which makes me very suspicious. The label says “All Natural” but that truly does not mean it actually is all natural. Is this something I would buy? No. If you served it to me at a party, would I drink it? Sure. I understand busy schedules and the ease of buying something pre-made.  And at just under 38 calories for a 1.5 ounce serving, this could count as a healthy cocktail.

We taste-tested this on the beach with a handful of friends after  an open water swim practice. The verdict? I only had three people taste it and the feedback was that it was terrible, smelled funny (like chemicals), and none of us could take more than two sips.We threw the rest of the bottle away (and we’re not the kind of people who take dumping liquor lightly). To be fair, two of the tasters were not fans of the woman behind Skinny Girl Cocktails, although one was- but ultimately all of three of us agreed it was horrible stuff.

Option 2:  A Little Effort for a Lot of Taste
Making your own simple syrup- a key ingredient in most mixed drinks- is very easy. You use a 1 to 1 ratio: 1 cup of water to 1 cup of sugar (I use agave syrup or honey instead); heat it low-and-slow on the stove, stirring until it is combined and all the sugar has dissolved. Once it cools you are ready to make everything from lemonade to sangria. A great summertime drink that comes in at under 200 calories per delicious glass is vodka lemonade. Most 40% alcohol-by-volume liquors have 56 calories per shot, so I suggest purchasing a good vodka and adding one shot to a cup of ice, and then filling the rest of your glass with good lemonade. Make your own lemonade (simple syrup plus lemon juice and water), watch for an organic, shelf-stable brand or pick up my favorite, Simply Lemonade (120 calories per serving, but does contain a lot of sugar). For a pretty party presentation, add ice to your favorite pitcher, then lemon slices, and finally pour in four parts lemonade to one part of vodka. Easy, good, and yet still tastes like you put some effort into your Labor Day cocktail.

Option 3:  Mix Up Something Fresh
In the course of researching this article I became frustrated. Every search for a healthy cocktail led me to a mocktail recipe (no alcohol, the horror!). I am a big believer in everything in moderation, and down here on the coast, there’s always a sunset to watch with a bottle of really good beer. I decided instead of following any of the mocktail recipes online, I’d make my own using some of my favorites:  rum, fruit, and lime juice. My original recipe called for 4 cups of honeydew melon, cubed; 1/3 cup good rum; and just under 1 cup of lime juice (I ran out of lime juice). I blended it all, tossed it in a cooler, and headed to the beach. Honeydew melon is high in vitamin C and natural sugars. Even better, it’s in season and  is plentiful everywhere. My calorie count estimate is right around 130, which is pretty good for a cocktail.

My beachgoers liked the slightly sour taste but all agreed that it would be best as a frozen blender drink. Freeze the melon chunks prior to making, or toss in ice cubes. A few also suggested that we add something else, such as mint or shaved coconut. Because it was whole fruit that was blended, the drink had a bit of fruit pulp, which would not be an issue if it was a frozen blender drink instead of served on the rocks on the beach. Verdict? It’s a keeper. This recipe is easily exchangeable with any melon you have, and a good use for leftover melon (freeze the cubes in plastic baggies; take out whenever you need a quick fruity summer drink). Not into sour? Start with just half a cup of lime juice, taste, and then add more if needed. And although melon is high in sugar (carbohydrate), remember this is a good sugar, straight from the fruit, and your body can digest fructose more easily than super-processed white sugar.

If you do choose to kick back with a cocktail this Labor Day Weekend, remember that the calories aren’t necessarily in the alcohol- it’s whatever you add to the alcohol. Quality is key, so make what you can from scratch and use fresh, whole ingredients. Finally, and, most importantly, please drink responsibly.

By: Anne Reed, a local triathlete, wife to an Ironman athlete, mother of three, and a contributor to Fit Nation online.

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