Plain water is passé—at least, that’s what the sellers of multitudes of fizzy, nutrient-enhanced or flavored (sometimes all in one) waters lining grocery store shelves would have you believe. Dr. Erik Suh of Eastside Primary Care and Wellness explains what can quench—and what can derail your good health intentions. Suh, a triathlete in his spare time, has his own favorite hydration combo: “A banana with coconut water before exercise, and water with a Nuun tablet during training.”
Are there any waters that live up to claims they are more hydrating or packing some nutritional or electrolyte bonuses?
E.S.: Tap water, bottled water, filtered water are all about the same from a hydration standpoint. Be careful of flavored waters or vitamin waters as they often contain fructose, which is basically liquid sugar, and if you don’t use it up quickly, will turn into bad cholesterol in your liver. Zero or low-calorie versions often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Nutra-Sweet) or sucralose (Splenda), which can cause health problems, including migraine headaches, IBS, allergies and eczema. Also, the vitamins that are in these drinks are difficult to absorb and not worth the cost. If you want an alternative to water or have water aversion, try organic coconut water. It is natural and has electrolytes that could aid in hydration if your electrolytes are depleted from sweating in the sun.
How does sparkling water rate?
ES: [Sparkling water] hydrates just like plain water; however, it is slightly more acidic, so be careful not to drink too much of it if you have sour stomach or have heartburn, as the acidity can worsen your symptoms. Also, be careful about different variations of sparkling water, such as club soda, which contains sodium. Drink too much and the high sodium can cause edema and high blood pressure. If you add flavors to sparkling water, then it’s back to adding fructose or artificial sweeteners and food coloring—better to squeeze a lemon or add a splash of juice instead, for natural flavor and scent.
When talking about hydrating alternatives, what should people look for (and avoid)?
ES: If you are planning on exercising in the heat, or if you are an endurance athlete, you are more likely to get dehydrated, but also deplete your electrolytes and minerals, mainly sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, through sweat. There are several electrolyte-enhanced waters you can purchase at any stores, or you can DIY with many recipes you can find online. I would definitely avoid any energy drinks with caffeine and other stimulants such as guarana, which are also loaded with a ton of sugar. They might give you an initial jolt, but you will come crashing down fast once they wear off. More importantly, you are now in double trouble because you are becoming dehydrated due to exercise and due to caffeine acting as a diuretic and wasting water.