designer watersDesigner drinks are everywhere. Gatorade, Smart Water, Vitamin Water, and Propel are just a few of the highly marketed waters vying for your loose change. Are they worth it?

It all began with Gatorade. Gatorade is the grandfather of the designer waters. Researchers developed Gatorade for athletes at the University of Florida. Gatorade has moderate amounts of sugar, sodium and potassium.

  • Gatorade works best for long distance events of at least an hour or more. Long distance athletes need to replace the carbohydrate they've used up for energy. But if a beverage has too much sugar in it, it won't empty from the stomach quickly enough, causing stomach upset. Gatorade is high enough in sugar for an energy boost without being so high that it causes stomach upset.
  • Drinking Gatorade for shorter events will not likely improve performance.
  • Gatorade may encourage more fluid intake because athletes like the way it tastes. For athletes that don't drink enough water, Gatorade may encourage better hydration.
  • But Gatorade is still just sugar water. Drinking Gatorade may be better than drinking sodas, but not by very much.
  • Plain water is actually a more effective hydrator because it does not have any sugar in it. It empties more quickly from the stomach so it can be absorbed more quickly in the lower intestine.

Many other designer waters have followed in Gatorade's wake. Many are marketed to appeal to everyone, not just athletes. One of the big problems with all of these waters, Gatorade included, is that they are being marketed beyond their means, making an unbelievable number of over-the-top, unfounded claims. Vitamin Water is one of the most popular with claims among the most egregious.

False Claims. Vitamin Water is just sugar water with a handful of vitamin C and B-vitamins thrown in - nutrients that most people get plenty of elsewhere. But the makers of Vitamin Water want you to think it can change your life. If you're feeling a little sluggish, then buy Energy Tropical Citrus flavor. The secret energy ingredient? Caffeine! If your metabolism is slowing down with age then simply drink "Rescue" with green tea extract.  Want stronger muscles? Then buy the "Power-C" with taurine. Are these claims real? Of course not. The claims are based on flimsy evidence at best and misinterpretation of science at worst. The folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest even filed a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission over the marketing claims that Vitamin Water promotes. Even Gatorade is promoting products like its Gatorade AM as necessary to rehydrate before your morning workout.

Best Drinks. So what should you drink? Replace these pricey phony drinks with the real thing - and I don't mean coke. If you need a caffeine boost, why not drink a cup of tea or coffee? Not only will you get some eye-opening caffeine, you'll the natural phytochemicals that come from the coffee bean or the tealeaf. If you need to rehydrate in the morning, drink a cup of 100% fruit juice. You'll get carbs and fluids for your morning workout, plus a host of phytochemicals, vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium. Drink a glass of milk with lunch or for an afternoon snack. You'll be getting bone building calcium and phosphorus plus loads of potassium to fight high blood pressure.

The Bottom Line. Vitamin Water and other designer waters are simply smart marketing ploys. If you drink them regularly, you're wasting money on empty promises and missing out on much more nutritious drinks like water, milk, juice, tea and coffee. They may be useful in certain situations - such as athletic events. But they simply don't make sense as daily beverages.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences