What's the Deal with Performance Water?
Hydrogen water, oxygenated water, alkaline water, electrolyte water—don't buy into these special waters for the buzzwords.
When you sit down at a restaurant and the waiter asks "still, sparkling, or tap?" you realize you already have a lot of water options and you haven't even opened up your menu.
But those three choices are just the tip of the iceberg that is the booming "specialty water" industry.
Now, you can walk into Whole Foods or even your gym and find tons of souped-up waters promising elixir-like benefits. How do you choose?! (Related: These New Products Turn Basic Water Into a Fancy Health Drink)
"The key element is water, which most people are still under-consuming' despite all the varieties out there," says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D.N., an associate research professor in the College of Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University.
Will any particular one make you stronger, faster, better? TBD. At the very least, though, they'll help you reach your daily H2O quota.a
Brands claim water with extra hydrogen gas dissolved in it can neutralize cell-damaging free radicals, increase energy production, and ease inflammation. "But the science doesn't validate the added cost," says Melissa Majumdar, R.D., a bariatric dietitian for the Brigham and Women's Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Hydrogen Water)
Plus, your body doesn't actually need more hydrogen, says Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., an associate professor and the director of the Applied Physiology Laboratory in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "Part of why we fatigue during exercise is because of hydrogen build-up, which causes your muscles to stop contracting," she says.
Any benefits you feel from hydrogen water are likely due to the fact that you're simply hydrating more.
The logic behind marketing water with extra O2 as a way to help your body process toxins or recover faster makes sense: "The more oxygen we have, the better we can breathe, and the greater the nutrient delivery in the blood," explains Clark. "Hypothetically, with more oxygen in the blood, we could perform to a greater standard." (Related: Is Canned Oxygen the Key to Post-Workout Recovery?)
But drinking oxygen doesn't get those extra molecules into your bloodstream, where they do their work. And "there's no research to support hydrogen water's 'benefits,'" says Majumdar. You'd be better off drinking beet or tart cherry juice, which are proven to increase blood flow and circulation.
Metals and impurities have been removed from alkaline water via microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet exposure processes, to make it less acidic. Proponents say it can regulate your body's pH levels, which is important for making your enzymes and muscles work better, says Smith-Ryan. But your body does that naturally. "Having some water is not going to modify that pH," she says. "Your body is too strong of a regulator." (Related: What's Up with Crystal-Infused Water?)
While one study did show that high pH water reduced blood viscosity (or made blood flow more efficiently) by 6.3 percent compared to 3.36 percent with standard purified drinking water, Clark calls that number statistically insignificant—meaning, you're not going to notice a difference.
Find it in: smartwater
Sodium, potassium, and chloride are all ionized minerals that conduct electrical currents in the body. You lose them when you sweat, which is why you see electrolyte-enhanced drinks at aid stations during races. "Athletes who are exercising for over an hour should be consuming extra electrolytes," says Majumdar. "They're going to help you retain fluid and also increase thirst, so you keep drinking."
But the average person doesn't need to be chugging electrolytes all day—when you over-consume them, "you just sweat them out or excrete them," says Smith-Ryan. And while most enhanced waters are calorie-free, electrolyte-rich sports drinks often have other additives, like flavoring and carbohydrates. (Keep that in mind if you're cutting out added sugars.)