Staying hydrated is hugely important for your health — especially when you’re regularly shedding sweat at the gym. As we’ve previously reported, even if you’re just a little bit dehydrated, your aerobic performance starts to suffer, and you can take a hit on muscular endurance, power, and strength. Yeah, time to up your hydration.
Enter a new crop of “enhanced waters” that claim to offer more health benefits and hydrate you more than plain old H2O. These electrolyte-enhanced, vitamin-boosted super waters might sound great on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper, the science gets a bit murky.
According to the experts, most enhanced H2O just doesn’t live up to the hype. “You’re better off saving your money and sticking to tap water,” says Alissa Rumsey R.D., C.S.C.S., an expert in fueling athletic performance.
What are enhanced waters?
Enhanced water is actually a broad umbrella term for a wide range of products, from vitamin-infused water to products that claims to include additional electrolytes like potassium, which are said to help your body absorb more water more quickly.
Recently, we’ve also seen products like alkaline water, which is said to neutralize the acids in your bloodstream to help your body metabolize nutrients more efficiently. Because alkaline water has a higher pH level than plain tap water, “proponents claim that it can neutralize acid in your bloodstream and is better for you than regular water,” explains Rumsey. (It’s the same theory behind the alkaline diet, which is said to improve your energy and expedite weight loss).
But just like the alkaline diet, there’s no solid data to back up the benefits of alkaline water. “Our bodies do a great job of keeping our blood pH in a very tight range,” Rumsey says. “Drinking alkaline water won’t affect this”.
There’s also a lot of buzz around water infused with charcoal, with wellness experts claiming that activated charcoal can detox your body as you rehydrate, thereby increasing your energy and just making you feel better overall. But “the idea that activated charcoal will cleanse your body from toxins doesn’t make sense,” Rumsey explains. That’s because activated charcoal is primarily used to treat poisoning cases by binding to certain substances in your stomach and small intestine, “not any ‘toxins’ that have built up in your body,” she says. That’s something your liver does on its own.
Vitamin-infused water also isn’t necessarily any better for you than plain old H2O. “If you’re eating a varied, balanced diet, you’re probably meeting your vitamin needs,” says Rumsey. Many vitamin-boosted waters also contain added sugar and calories that can rack up quickly, so you should always “seek your vitamins from food first,” says Kris Sollid, R.D., senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF).
Is there any reason to drink enhanced water?
There is one enhanced water that might actually help you hydrate better: electrolyte-enhanced water, like coconut water. “Coconut water contains potassium, an electrolyte lost when you sweat a lot during a hard workout or a workout in high temperatures,” explains Rumsey.
But this only applies to your toughest workouts. If you’re sitting at your desk all day, drinking water with electrolytes won’t help you achieve better hydration, says Sollid.
What’s the best way to stay hydrated?
Rather than adding a bunch of extras to water, the best way to stay hydrated is pretty straight forward: drink up.
“The most important thing you can do to reap the health benefits of water is to drink enough of it each day,” says Alyssa Ardolino, R.D., a nutritionist at the IFICF.
While standard wisdom says you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, the amount varies depending on what climate you live in, and whether or not you lead an active lifestyle. If you clock in more than an hour and a half at the gym per day, the best way to stay hydrated is to drink about 17 ounces of water (or two standard glasses) before your workout, as well as 7-10 ounces of water every half hour during your workout. Post-workout, you should drink eight ounces within 30 minutes of your cooldown, says Ardolino.
For the average guy, “the best way to know if you’re hydrated is to pay attention to how frequently you are going to the bathroom and the color of your urine,” says Rumsey. To stay in the healthiest hydration zone, your pee should be the color of lemonade.
The bottom line: enhanced waters aren’t actually any healthier for you. The best way to hydrate is to stick to good old-fashioned H2O. But if you really do prefer the taste of an “enhanced” water, check the label and keep an eye out for the sugar count. “If the drink is otherwise identical to regular water but contains a few more vitamins, it’s up to you whether you want to spend the extra money,” Rumsey says.
Read More: 5 healthy snacks have less than 100 calories