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Should You Be Drinking Protein Water?

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Photo: Fizzique

Protein has been added to everything from chips to cereals to cookies causing some food pros to say the added-protein trend has gotten a little out of control. Well, now you can add protein to yet another food or beverage: water.

Companies such as protein2o, TriminoArla Foods, Vieve, biPro, ProBalancePremier Protein, and others are hawking sugar-free, no-carb beverages packed with up to 20 grams of whey protein per serving. They're not just for The Vitamin Shoppe and GNC shoppers of the world, either; you can find protein water at Target, Walmart, and grocery and convenience stores around the country.

You could argue the food industry is simply giving people what they want: A 2017 industry report says whey protein is the single most sought-after ingredient in functional foods and sports nutrition products. After all, it helps build muscle, keeps you feeling satisfied, and can even aid weight loss.

But the emergence of protein water raises the question: If you can get protein in so many other forms, even plant-based protein does it really need to be in your water, too?

"I don't think people need to waste their money on protein water," says dietitian Taylor Wolfram, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N. "Most people can get all the protein they need from food, with the exception of critically ill people and some elite athletes, who require individualized nutrition plans from registered dietitian nutritionists."

Okay, so the nutrition community might not be a huge fan. However, there's a case to be made for protein water—and not just because it tastes good. (Example: protein2o's Kawaiola Coconut flavor tastes like a piña colada sans rum. It's slightly ~thicker~ compared to plain old H2O, but that's surprisingly not off-putting.) 

Even though it's technically called water, "it's not like drinking a Gatorade post-workout," says Andy Horrow, president of protein2o, who chugs a bottle after Orangetheory Fitness sessions. "You sort of feel like you replaced something big." 

If you're used to shaking up some protein powder and water to get the ultra-important post-workout dose of protein, this may even be an upgrade, taste-wise. The portability factor is convenient, especially if you're always running late in the mornings, working out on your lunch break, or just hate getting protein powder everywhere. It also helps you increase your water intake, which can only be a good thing. And if you're struggling to hit your overall daily protein goal—looking at you, macro counters—getting 20 grams of protein in a single bottle of the stuff (without any carbs or fats) is pretty appealing.

Another company aptly named Fizzique (get it?) is capitalizing on customers in the middle of two trends: protein and sparkling water. (A new Nielsen report says sparkling water sales so far in 2018 are up 22 percent from the same time last year, making it a multibillion-dollar market.) The founder is David Jenkins, a former Olympic sprinter and current CEO of Next Proteins, which makes Detour bars and other protein products.

Jenkins says he's always liked the taste of sparkling water and first started adding protein to it as a young athlete—but "it didn't taste that good," he says. Years later, he and his team sought out to make sparkling protein drinks using liquid whey protein, which led to much better results. Cans of Fizzique, which hit stores late this spring, contain colorless sparkling water with 20 grams of protein and 80 calories apiece. (But take note: A daily flavored sparkling water habit may not be so healthy.)

As innovative as these companies sound, they weren't the first to mix protein and water. You might remember Special K had 16-oz bottles of the stuff in the mid-2000s (though they contained just 5 grams of protein). Many other companies have tried and failed in the protein water space, too, say both Horrow and Jenkins.

The bottom line, says Wolfram, is to aim to get your nutrients from food first—and to remember that all diet fads are cyclical. (See: What Fad Diets Are Doing to Your Health) That said, if you want to combat that afternoon slump with a protein water, using it as a bridge to your next meal (and a chance to try out a new trend, risk-free), protein water is definitely a smarter choice than a soda.

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