Battle of the Bottles: 'Enhanced' waters can promote hydration but at a cost

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Looking for sweeteners? Preservatives?

And if you don't mind consuming those substances, some of the fluids you're supposed to drink every day?

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Click photo for larger image.

Try bottled water.

Not just any bottled water, mind you, but one of the new "enhanced" waters that have taken the beverage market by storm in the past few years as Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kraft, Nestle, Gatorade and other manufacturers have transformed a formerly natural element -- water -- into yet another formulated beverage.

And as those manufacturers battle it out on supermarket shelves, consumers can't seem to get enough. Sales of enhanced water jumped from $80 million in 2001 to $245 million the following year, and could top $600 million in the next year or so, according to New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp.

"For a change of pace, you might want something different and that's why we're seeing these products coming to market and seeing them grow so quickly," said Gary Hemphill, managing director of the research firm, which tracks consumer trends in the global beverage industry. "I would say it's not hit the wall yet -- we think it's going to have sizable growth for at least the next few years."

Prompted by the public's mistrust of tap water's safety, bottled water has exploded in popularity in the past decade, with sales of individual bottles of water increasing by about 30 percent a year in the past five years, with sales topping $4 billion in 2003, according to the market research firm Packaged Facts.

And within the world of bottled water, enhanced water is the hot new trend for adding value -- and cost for the consumer -- to plain old H2O. A six-pack of flavored water costs about $2 at local grocery stores, for instance, while a six-pack of vitamin-enriched water such as Kraft's Fruit2O or Gatorade's new Propel costs about $3.

Last year, following the lead of the relatively pricey Fruit2O and Propel, other manufacturers launched several less expensive, flavored waters that appeal to deskbound office workers looking for a flavorful alternative to carbonated soft drinks, as well as to athletes looking for hydration before, during and after serious workouts.

Coke's Dasani launched a fruit-flavored bottled water that uses sucralose (which most people know as Splenda) to keep its sweetened drink calorie-free. Pepsico's Aquafina company introduced FlavorSplash, which likewise relies on Splenda for sweetening along with some berry flavoring. And Nestle introduced its Pure Life brand.

But unlike Fruit2O and Propel, which both contain about 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of some key vitamins, the new brands add only flavor and the preservatives to maintain that flavor, in hopes of appealing to consumers who are most interested in taste.

Just don't expect those flavored waters to replace the vitamin supplements you're supposed to be taking, or to replace essential salts if you're doing an especially intense workout.

"The ones that are strictly flavored, like the Aquafina, those are going to help with hydration, but that's it," said Jon Dosik, project director for the American Medical Athletic Association, an organization based in Bethesda, Md., that gives doctors information on training, diet, injury prevention and sports medicine to help them motivate patients to become more active. "They're not going to replace electrolytes, sodium, carbohydrates or anything [that fitness drinks] are geared to replace, other than water."

But hydration, he said, is essential even if you're just going for a long walk, and it becomes even more important when that walk turns into a run and that run turns into a 5-mile road workout on a hot summer afternoon.

If you're not drinking enough liquids before, during and after exercise, you run the risk of headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, sluggishness and nausea, according to Mr. Dosik. (Coffee, tea and sodas that contain caffeine, which stimulates urination and promotes dehydration, don't count.)

Runners and other athletes should "prehydrate" by drinking about 17 ounces of water an hour or so before exercising, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. And while some people simply like the taste (and athletic cachet) of sports drinks such as Gatorade and Propel that replace electrolytes, they're only needed if you're working out strenuously for an hour or more.

But while the American College of Sports Medicine says flavored waters promote hydration because they taste better than plain water, enhanced waters also come with the diet-drink taste of Splenda or aspartame, as well as doses of preservatives such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA to protect freshness and flavor -- additives that some people find less than appealing.

Jim Lacey, a runner and race organizer from South Park, said he has tried some of the enhanced waters when they have been given out after races. But for training and hydration during races, he prefers plain water to the new, flavored waters.

"Unless you've trained with that kind of water, you're probably better off drinking regular water rather than sports water," Mr. Lacey said. "There's nothing wrong with training with sports water, but the thing you have to worry about is doing something during the race that you don't normally do during training."


Food editor Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1760.


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