Race Fueling

Enhanced Water: Worth the Cost or Just a Bunch of Hype?

You can spend a pretty penny on staying hydrated.

Today, water comes in a dizzying array of forms, including alkaline, electrolyte-rich, protein-enhanced, and even caffeinated. A big part of the growing enhanced water trend doesn’t even hail from the tap. You can spend your whole paycheck on maple, watermelon, cactus, coconut, and panda-approved bamboo water. So is it a smart move to invest in this stuff? Let’s dive in. While all of these embellished aquas are inherently hydrating and can be an exciting experiment, board-certified sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci warns there is little hard science to back up most of their grandiose claims. For instance, proponents of alkaline water, which has a pH higher than regular drinking water, claim that it helps improve the body’s acid-base balance for better health and performance. Antonucci warns against buying into this sales pitch, explaining that our bodies are already well-equipped at maintaining proper pH balance, adding: “It’s a big jump to say these waters will help with this process.” Enhanced waters such as maple and coconut are often advertised as being nutrient-rich, but in reality they often supply relatively low levels of nutrients like calcium—in comparison to what most triathletes will get from their food when following a balanced diet. The same applies to protein water, which packs half the nutritional punch that fish, poultry, or even a post-workout smoothie would. “Your decision to use a product should be based on whether it will help meet your hydration needs, not if it will greatly contribute to your nutrition needs,” Antonucci says.

And don’t let the word “water” fool you into thinking these products are all free of calories, she warns. “If your calorie needs are elevated because of heavy training, then you may have room in your diet for the extra calories some of these drinks provide. But if training volume is lower, you may not need 200 extra calories from fancy waters.” With that said, if you want to drink something more exciting than yawny H2O, options like watermelon water are a better choice than higher sugar drinks like sodas and sweetened bottled teas. And the natural sweetness in coconut water can increase the drive to drink, thereby improving overall hydration.

Drinks with an electrolyte boost like Smartwater and coconut options can seem like a boon to athletes who are looking to replenish electrolytes lost during a sweaty workout. But Antonucci says not to get too excited about their electrolyte content, as it’s easy enough to get what you need from post-exercise food. “During long workouts, you are still better off sipping a sports drink that provides higher amounts of carbs and sodium.”

The Bottom Line on Enhanced Water

Be it pricey stuff from the health food store or free-flowing (and free-costing) tap water, any type of water is welcome when your fluid levels need topping up. Just remember that no amount of cucumber water is going to turn a donkey into a racehorse.