Hydration: Designer ‘Water’ And Hidden Calories

Not all water is created equal. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Read the labels to know just what you are buying.

Today you can choose from a number of “designer” waters, often called “enhanced waters,” offering everything from vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to herbs and caffeine in the mix. Some are flavored with no added sweeteners, while many are flavored and sweetened with a sugar substitute, or flavored and sweetened with a sugar (or a combination of sugar and sugar substitute). The choices can be confusing, and in their advertising these drinks are often confused with sports drinks or the carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages with specific scientific formulations that endurance athletes consume during exercise to replace fluid, carbohydrate, and electrolyte losses.

Read the labels to know just what you are buying. Perhaps your plan is to obtain your vitamins and minerals from a variety of foods and one multivitamin mineral supplement, and you would prefer not to consume too many sugary calories. Check on serving sizes; many bottles contain multiple servings. Waters with added sugar typically  provide 70 to 125 calories per 20-ounce bottle (check the serving size on the label), making them close in calories to a soft drink, but minus the carbonation. Some waters clock in at zero calories, but keep an eye on their use of artificial sweeteners. With zero calories and no artificial sweeteners, some of these waters simply provide flavor for individuals who do not like to drink plain water, and for this reason they do encourage good fluid intake.

RELATED: Water: Bottled Or Tap?

Herbal and vitamin-enhanced waters may not provide significant amounts of these nutrients per serving; however, if you drink them frequently you could potentially consume enough to take in too much of some of these substances. Currently there is no scientific backing for the idea that consuming oxygen-enriched water can boost energy by increasing the oxygen content of red blood cells, as the advertisements for these products claim.

If one of your goals as an endurance athlete is to decrease weight and body fat, you may be rethinking what you put on your plate, but what you consume from a cup may have as great an impact on your body composition.

Sugar-sweetened drinks contribute the most calories in many American diets, not only soft drinks, but also fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened iced teas. These beverages may also be edging out healthier drinks that provide vitamins and minerals. Sweetened drinks are often available in large or super-sized amounts. And liquid calories may not have the same satisfying effect as solid foods, as slurping replaces chewing, not giving your brain as much to register that you have eaten. While there may be timing intervals during a demanding training period when liquid recovery drinks and the additional calories are needed and welcome, those products also provide specific nutrients for the recovery process, rather than empty calories. So be aware of liquid choices, their calories, and their nutrient contribution, and use them appropriately.

RELATED: Water, The First Nutrient

This article adapted from the new edition of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN with permission of VeloPress. 

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About The Author:

Monique, Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a seasoned and trusted sports nutritionist with nearly 30 years of professional experience helping elite and age-group endurance athletes and major league sports teams to optimize their nutrition. She is also the founder of Personal Nutrition Designs, based in the Chicago area. 

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