There’s no denying the importance of staying hydrated to help optimize your performance and speed up recovery. But when you see just how many different types of water are crowding cooler shelves these days, it’s natural to wonder: Is plain old H2O good enough?
To find out which if any of the latest “healthy waters” are worth going beyond the Brita filter, we asked nutrition and weight loss expert Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, contributor to the New York Times bestseller 7 Years Younger, to help us parse the claims behind five different kinds: alkaline water, electrolyte water, hydrogen water, oxygenated water, and chlorophyll water. Here’s what we learned.
What it is: Designed to be less acidic than regular tap water (and other types of water), alkaline water relies on added minerals like calcium, silica, and magnesium or an ionizer to bring up the pH level. Proponents say it helps neutralize acids in the bloodstream and make the body less acidic overall, which in turn improves our ability to metabolize the nutrients we need for fuel.
The expert’s take: “You have several biological systems dedicated to tightly regulating your body to a certain pH level, so you don’t need an alkaline water to do that—that’s the magic of the human body,” says Cassetty. But she did point out one potential ancillary benefit: Alkaline water might help ease acid reflux by neutralizing some of the stomach’s acidity. “A lot of people do experience acid reflux when they work out, so you could try consuming it during exercise to see if it helps,” says Cassetty.
What it is: Electrolytes are those all-important minerals that help balance fluid levels that play a vital role in blood pressure, muscle contraction, healthy cell function, and more. Unlike other types of water, electrolyte water is enhanced with electrolytes like sodium and potassium to help replace those you lose through sweat during exercise.
The expert’s take: “The problem with electrolyte waters is that they don’t have the fast-acting carbohydrate you need to facilitate electrolyte delivery to your cells,” says Cassetty. In other words, you need some sugar in your recovery drink if you want those electrolytes to do you any good. A better bet is an electrolyte beverage, a.k.a. a sports drink; Cassetty like Scratch Labs hydration mixes. P.S. If your workout is less than 60 minutes long and doesn’t result in a lot of sweating, you don’t need an electrolyte drink at all, says Cassetty — you’ll replace the electrolytes you lost from food, so you can avoid the extra calories of a drink.
What it is: This water is infused with hydrogen gas, the theory being that the free hydrogen molecules are more easily absorbed by the body and can act like antioxidants to ease inflammation and improve energy.
The expert’s take: “I didn’t see any evidence for this, and I think our bodies are more complicated than this sounds,” says Cassetty. “Just because you ingest the molecules doesn’t mean you’re able to use them in an efficient way to reduce inflammation.” If you really want to undo some of the natural oxidative stress and inflammation that occurs during exercise, Cassetty suggests eating antioxidant-rich foods like colorful fruits and vegetables, and seasoning your foods with anti-inflammatory spices and herbs like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.
What it is: Pretty much like it sounds, oxygenated water is infused with extra dissolved oxygen. Fans say it boosts energy and mental focus and enhances heart and muscle function.
The expert’s take: “I’m not seeing a lot of support for this one, either,” says Cassetty. To put things in perspective, the amount of oxygen in one of these bottles is the equivalent of less than a single breath—so, not much. Cassetty did find one study that suggested oxygenated water may help clear lactic acid from muscles post exercise, but it was a small study—just 25 participants, all trained runners—and didn’t translate to any improved exercise performance. “I wouldn’t recommend anything based on one small study,” she says.
What it is: Yep, you guessed it – this water contains chlorophyll, the green molecule in plants that absorbs sunlight and converts it into energy. One of the newest types of water on the block, proponents say it increases human energy, too, along with myriad other benefits like blood detoxification and a stronger immune system.
The expert’s take: “Chlorophyll does have some good antioxidants, so in that sense it’s beneficial,” says Cassetty. “But all of those supposed benefits aren’t coming from just one thing—the increased energy and immune boost are probably because you exercise, have good eating habits, and minimize stress.” If you do decide to give chlorophyll water a try, be extra careful in the sun: “Chlorophyll taken in supplement form can make you more sensitive to the sun, so for people who are active outside, this is a good reminder to wear sunscreen and avoid working out during peak sunlight hours.”
The One Benefit of All These Types of Water
Ultimately, any of these types of water will deliver on your primary goal of hydration, and they won’t do you any harm. “So, if you like the way they taste and it helps you drink more water, then that’s a great reason to choose an enhanced water,” says Cassetty. But if you’re fine with filtered tap water, skipping the healthy waters trend can save you some money and cut down on plastic use in the process—all without dinging your performance.