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the fitness skeptic is a blog that takes a critical look at the health and fitness industry.

in it I'll examine the claims, products, practises and commonly held beliefs and SCRUTINISE the evidence.

My aim is to separate what is true from what is not and encourage fitness consumers and fitness professionals to become skeptics. 

I’ll take no prisoners when it comes to criticising the scam artist or highlightling the bogus but I’ll also give credit where credit is due.

Welcome to the fitness skeptic

Functional Water: Fitness Snake Oil Personified.

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Snake Oil:

a product of little real worth or value that is promoted as the solution to a problem.

Recently on my daily bike ride into work I've noticed a particular advert on bill boards and bus stops. The advert is for Lucozades latest foray into the sports drinks market, namely a product they call FitWater. FitWater isn't just another plain old bottled water however. It is, what has become known in the soft drinks industry, as a functional water. Yes you heard it right, Functional Water! Hopefully you're already thinking what I'm thinking......

Functional Whater?

I've already written a lot about sport drinks in a previous post but something I didn't mention was the trend in the soft drinks industry at the moment for functional water. Funtional water, which is it could be argued just a meaningless marketing term, is water with added ingredients such as vitamins and minerals which supposedly add health benefits. FitWater is as I've said, one such product and it's targeted squarely at the fitness consumer. 

So what is it that differentiates Fitwater from ordinary water?

Well, it contains electrolytes that will apparently, according to the adverts;

Electrolyse your Exercise.

DOH!

(I wonder how much they paid someone to come up with that!  You can imagine the conversation that went on in the Lucozade offices:

"Ive got a great idea"

"What's that then?"

"We should try to increase market share by starting to sell water"

"Hmmm, Hasn't that been done before?"

"Yes it has.... but what about...... if we call it Fit Water and say it will .......I don't know.....electrolyse your exercise? "

"Brilliant let's do it,"..... 

"Urmm that'll be a million pounds please"

"done. Cheap at half the price, I'll call the board of directors now"...........

Anyway, where was I ..........)

To be specific Fitwater contains the following electorlytes:

Chloride

Magnesium

Sodium and

Calcium

So what are Electrolytes?

You don't need to know the in and outs of how electrolytes are used in our bodies, just that they're important micro nutrients that play a variety of essential roles in our biochemistry. For example magnesium contributes to the chemistry of our DNA and energy production, calcium to bone growth and muscle contraction, sodium to blood pressure and blood volume and chloride to cell homeostasis and nerve action. You don't need to know any more detail suffice it to say they are absolutely vital for life and without them we would die.

Given that they are so vital its not surprising that we need to ingest them on a regular basis. The big question in this context is do we need special drinks that contain them to help. 

Dietary sources of Electrolytes

So where do we get electrolytes from in our diets? 

Here are some examples:

Chloride is found in table salt or sea salt (sodium chloride) as well as many vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives. 

Magnesium is found in beans and nuts, whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat bread as well as green leafy vegetables.

Most of the Sodium in our diets comes from the salt (sodium chloride) we add to our foods during or after cooking or during it's manufacture. It also occurs naturally in celery, beets and milk if you wanted to know. 

Calcium, as most people are familiar with, is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt but is also found in leafy green veg, nuts, bread and fish such as sardines and pilchards i.e. the ones you munch the bones of.

This isn't an exhaustive list but you can see that the electrolytes are available from a wide variety sources and if you have a well balanced diet you are more than likely getting all you need and are highly unlikely to be deficient in normal circumstances. 

Electrolyte imbalance

There are circumstances however that cause electrolyte imbalances in the body.

These include:

  • excessive fluid loss from the body from sweating (I'll come back to this in a bit)
  • vomiting or diarreah
  • over hydration (see my post on sports drinks for the low down on this)
  • poor nurtition
  • and various medications including diuretics

Given that FitWater is clearly targeted at those who exercise rather than those with illness or poor nutrition, its the first of these we should take a close look at. 

Electrolytes and exercise

As everyone is familiar with, we tend to sweat when we exercise. Sweat evaporates from the skin and this helps prevent us from over heating. As most exercisers can attest sweat tastes a little 'salty' and this is down to the electrolytes and other substances it contains. 

This being so the question becomes do we need to or is it helpful to replace these electrolytes during or after we exercise with a drink?

A quick review of the research.........

and the answer is........... no we don't. Now there's a surprise!

Unless you're exercising in extreme hot/humid conditions and sweating profusely for many hours, the electrolytes you lose during exercise will be replaced during your next meal or two. During your exercise (with the same caveat as above) the electrolyte deficiencies incurred will not affect your performance in any noticeable way. Add to this the fact that there is also so much variability between individuals when it comes to sweat rate and sweat electrolyte concentration, the electrolyte requirements for each person will vary greatly too. And remember, this only really matters if you are exercising for a long time in the heat.

If you are exercising in these conditions, electrolyte replacement may help reduce fatigue and the instances of muscle cramps but I can assure you that FitWater is not marketed towards the few people exercising in this type of environment. It's marketed to the exercising masses for whom it's benefits are negligible at best. But perhaps this is besides the point.

Environmental madness

Efficacy during exercising aside, there's also an ethical consideration to be made here. The bottled water market is already huge, we simply don't need it to grow. In the UK between 1980 and 2010 the consumption of bottled water increased from 30 million litres a year to 2.02 billion litres and apparently it's still on the rise despite the well known environmental impact from all the plastic! Adding another bottled water to an already flooded market (no pun intended), especially one that's targeted towards exercisers for no good reason is, I think, particularly objectionable. 

Dodging the UK sugar tax

From April 2018 the UK government will add a levy to soft drinks with added sugar. There'll be two bands - one for soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml and a higher one for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml. The levy will increase the cost of a drink in the lower band by 18p per litre while a drink in the higher band will have 24p added.  All this will, the UK government hopes, help tackle obesity and the associated health implications of a high sugar diet. 

Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen but if it is successful the market for sugary drinks will fall somewhat. Lucozade has a share in this market as we know and Lucozade Sport with it's 6g of sugar per 100ml will be subject to a levy as well as most of the other sugary drinks they sell. It's not perhaps surprising then, that a month before the sugar tax hits the UK, Lucozade is engaged in it's biggest ever product launch, pushing it's no sugar functional water into a market where functional water sales are predicted to double in the next 2 years.

If this hypothesis is true, Lucozades attempt to reduce it's sugar tax losses may however be short lived as the UK government plans to introduce another levy on plastic bottles, although the price increases in this case will be refundable should the bottles be recycled.  

Fitness Skeptic Score

Fit Water (and any of the many other functional waters that are on the market) get an FSS of:

Fitness skeptic score (2).png

As a drink for your average exerciser, it's of no particular benefit what so ever. I give it a 2.5 rather than a zero purely because if you're exercising in hot and humid conditions, electrolyte replacement may be of some benefit but remember FitWater is marketed towards your average exerciser.  

When push comes to shove however, you're far better off using water from your tap. It'll re-hydrating you just as well, is way way cheaper and if you pour it into a reusable bottle, is much more environmentally friendly.

Nuff said I think.

TFS out!

References

Recovery from prolonged exercise: restoration of water and electrolyte balance. Journal of Sports Science Jun 1997. 

Fluid and electrolyte loss and replacement in exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences Vol 9 1991.

Water and electrolyte requirements during exercise. Clinical Sports Medicine. July 1984.

Fluid replacement during exercise. Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews. Jan 1993.

Musculoskeletal performance and hydration status. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. June 2008

Sweating Rate and Sweat Sodium Concentration in Athletes: A Review of Methodology and Intra/Interindividual Variability. Sports Medicine March 2017. (note;  research done at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. See post on sports drinks)

Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Journal of Athletic Training. April 2005. 

Interindividual variability in sweat electrolyte concentration in marathoners. Journal International Society of Sports Nutrition. July 2016.

Functional Water - Statistics & Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/3306/functional-water/

Functional Waters Market to Double By 2020.  https://www.nutraceuticalsworld.com/issues/2016-03/view_breaking-news/functional-waters-market-to-double-by-2020

Soft Drinks Industry Levy. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/soft-drinks-industry-levy

Lucozade plots biggest ever product launch as it enters water market.  https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/08/02/lucozade-water-market-launch/

www.lucozadesport.com/product/lucozade-sport-fit-water/lucozade-sport-fitwater/5821/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/687207/consumption-volume-bottled-water-united-kingdom-uk/

Morning, noon or night; When is it best to exercise?

Homeopathy for sports injuries: Treating Something with Nothing.