Natural Foods Merchandiser

Athletes racing for new water options

It?s not rare to see a customer?s grocery cart piled high with cases of bottled water. Whether it?s for the taste, minerals or purity, shoppers are slurping up the stuff. The still water category alone grew 73 percent during the four-year period ending in December 2004, according to ACNielsen.

Perhaps one of the greatest connoisseurs of bottled water is the athletic individual. The bottled water industry, recognizing this, has flooded the market with waters that claim to contain more oxygen, more minerals or fewer additives—and therefore are the best choice for workout hydration.

But many performance waters—at least the ones available in conventional groceries—contain heavy doses of sweeteners, some artificial, rendering them not much better than soda.

Athletic natural foods shoppers want superior water without artificial ingredients and sweeteners. Retailers can turn these consumers on to products that contain minerals, electrolytes and ultra-pure water, without all the unwanted stuff.

Many consumers understand that water constitutes 60 percent of the human body and is essential for survival. But athletes need water for unique reasons. ?If you are even slightly dehydrated, that is going to reduce your metabolic rate, so from an athlete?s standpoint, you are not going to burn as [many] calories as you would in a hydrated state,? says Shawn Talbott, acting director of the Dietary Supplement Education Center at the University of Utah and fellow of the American Academy of Sports Medicine. Athletes also need to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweat.

?Because your thirst doesn?t kick in until the body is at least moderately dehydrated, most people walk around in a slightly dehydrated state,? Talbott says. He agrees with the old adage that people need eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, because the body uses 64 ounces of water to metabolize the standard 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. And an athlete is going to need even more because he or she is sweating and breathing out more moisture, Talbott says.

In addition to drinking more water, Talbott recommends that athletes drink water cool or cold. ?It will be absorbed much more quickly than warm water because cold water attracts blood to the stomach, and that?s going to accelerate absorption and transport throughout the body,? he says.

Absorption—of water and the minerals it carries—has become increasingly important to athletes, and many choose their products based on this trait alone.

Sanfaustino mineral water is a newcomer to the American market, although it has been sold in Italy for 110 years. Sanfaustino is unique because it naturally contains 400 milligrams of calcium per 8-ounce serving (the U.S. recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 milligrams). ?It comes out from its source with calcium and bicarbonate and a slight effervescence, and no sodium,? says Bill Sipper, company spokesman.

The calcium in Sanfaustino is as bioavailable as that in milk, Sipper says. And although the body needs magnesium and vitamin D to absorb calcium, it?s much easier to get those in supplement form than it is for calcium, which comes in horse-pill sizes, he says.

Another bottled water with minerals is Trinity Springs. At its source in Idaho, the water flows to the surface through two miles of crystal-lined rock, which infuses the water with minerals and energy, says Sharon Egan, director of communications. The company labels its untreated water as a mineral supplement rather than a bottled water because, by law, nationally distributed water must be treated, she says. Trinity naturally contains silica, sodium, sulfate, fluoride, chloride, calcium and potassium. Because the body can get too much sodium, Egan suggests drinking no more than one liter daily of the mineral-rich, gold-label Trinity. The company also makes a distilled version of its spring water with lower mineral levels.

In May, the company will introduce enhanced waters, which contain the untreated spring water with efficacious levels of vitamins and minerals, Egan says. The five different fruit-juice-sweetened formulas will serve different purposes. For example, a ?strength? formula will be fortified with B-complex vitamins, ginseng and taurine; a ?revive? formula will have vitamin E, potassium and ginseng. ?People have been hammering us for [a vitamin-enhanced water],? Egan says.

Bottled water enhanced with vitamins and electrolytes is also popular among athletes and trainers. At Whitestone, N.Y.-based Glacéau, the company?s Smartwater begins with vapor-distilled water from Sierra Nevada snowmelt, says Dawn Miller, brand manager. ?Vapor distillation is a patented process that removes any dissolved particles like heavy metals, inorganic materials, chemicals or contaminants from the water. This purity is essential to allow the water the freedom to absorb, cleanse and purify as it flows through our bodies.?

The company then adds calcium, magnesium and potassium, ?which have a lot of research behind them and still taste good when added to the water,? Miller says. These minerals are essential for bodily functions (see sidebar).

Not everyone thinks that mineral-enhanced water is best for athletes, though. Bill Halloway, chief executive officer and inventor of Penta in Carlsbad, Calif., believes his mineral-free distilled water is the most effective for athletes. Because nothing is added to the water, the body doesn?t have to process additives and can perform at a maximum level. ?You should take electrolytes ahead of a race,? he says. ?You don?t want your digestive system working when you?re racing.?

Oxygenated waters, tempting as they may sound to consumers, have yet to impress scientists. ?I wish there were some positive research on them,? says the University of Utah?s Talbott. In fact, the opposite is true. A small study (with just 11 subjects) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2003 found that a single breath of air contains more oxygen than a bottle of oxygenated water. Furthermore, oxygen-enhanced waters did not improve exercise performance.

Penta adds oxygen to its water, but for preservation, not performance. ?The ? purified water will bind to the oxygen rather than the plastic [bottle], so Penta water will never have that plastic taste,? says Jeff Pizzino, public relations manager. ?Humans do not get oxygen from water—fish do.?

At Penta, the water undergoes an 11-hour process, which includes three filtrations, reverse osmosis and deionization to produce the ?cleanest water on the market,? Halloway says. At the end of the process, Penta has smaller molecular water clusters than untreated water so it is better absorbed by the body, the company says. Not everyone agrees, though, that water with a smaller molecular structure can be bottled. ?There are lots of things that you can do to change the structure of water—put it under pressure, change its temperature, but then it goes back to its original structure,? says Shelly Schmidt, professor of food chemistry at the University of Illinois.

Penta uses spectroscopy to validate the structure of its water, a testing method Schmidt says is very open to interpretation.

For Talbott, the bottom line is that taste should be the ultimate deciding factor when choosing a water, although he suggests that consumers avoid water with sweeteners because they can create a blood-sugar low.

When shopping for your water section, think variety. Some athletes like to know that they are replacing their electrolytes with the water they are drinking while others prefer distilled water with nothing added. The savvy athlete will shop your section for bottled water that doesn?t contain the unnecessary ingredients present in the waters many mass grocers sell.

Anna Soref is a freelance writer based in Lafayette, Colo.

The essentials on electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals dissolved in fluids, such as in the bloodstream and in cells, that help conduct the electrical current that is used in bodily functions. Electrolytes are lost through sweat, so it is important for athletes to ensure they are obtaining enough of these essential minerals when exercising vigorously. Following are six of the major electrolytes and their primary functions:

  • Bicarbonate balances acid levels in the body.
  • Calcium impacts bone mineral density and inhibits bone loss; it also promotes muscle relaxation.
  • Chloride maintains fluid balance.
  • Magnesium is necessary for muscle contraction and nerve function.
  • Phosphate is important for cellular metabolism and bone health.
  • Potassium regulates heart contraction and muscle function.
  • Sodium regulates the amount of water in the body.


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 5/p. 28, 32

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