Post-Workout Drinks and Vitamin Enhanced Water
Are Enhanced Water Products Really Good for You?
Enhanced water products are beverages that are primarily water with additional ingredients, such as natural or artificial flavors, sugar, sweeteners, vitamins, minerals and other “enhancements.” Sometimes they are marketed as sports beverages or “healthier” soda alternatives because they may have electrolytes for workout recovery.
What Are the Ingredients in Vitamin Enhanced Waters?
The primary ingredients in these beverages are reverse osmosis water and cane sugar, providing 31 grams of carbohydrates, with a few added artificial vitamins, along with a touch of stevia.
Carbohydrates have about 4 calories per gram, which means that all 120 calories (in most of these drinks) are likely from the added sugar, which we all know provides completely empty (non-nutritious) calories. If the calculations are right, that is more than 7 ½ teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle. You could avoid those calories and still enjoy an enhanced water beverage by choosing one sweetened with a non-caloric sweetener – with stevia extract, or one that uses aspartame. But are those really any healthier?
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener made from a purified extract of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant. Interestingly, the FDA does not allow the whole-leaf or crude extract to be used in food, because studies have previously shown some safety concerns. However, the highly purified extract of stevia called Rebaudioside A, which is 200 times as sweet as sugar, is allowed in food and beverage products and is sold separately as a sugar substitute. Other stevia products can only be sold as dietary supplements.
What is Aspartame?
Aspartame is also a non-caloric sweetener. Aspartame is made with aspartic acid and phenylalanine and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar so a lot less of it can be used to give the same level of sweetness in a food or beverage product, without the added calories. Aspartame is on the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list according to the FDA.
However, aspartame is not safe for patients with PKU, a rare inherited disease, which allows phenylalanine to accumulate in the brain. Although non-caloric sweeteners can be a better choice than sugar for diabetics, the safest and most-nutrient dense foods are usually whole, unprocessed foods.
The Judgment Call: Is Vitamin Enhanced Water Healthy?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I like to recommend that my clients eat and drink nutrient-dense, whole foods. I don’t recommend using enhanced beverages or energy drinks, other than watered down juice or perhaps milk for a workout recovery beverage.
I would also prefer that my clients take a balanced natural supplement or balanced amino acids for building muscles. In fact, supplementing indiscriminately with artificial vitamins can sometimes cause imbalances with other nutrients; therefore it is always best to talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist to see if supplementing is right for you.