Since the body is 60% water, drinking H20 is “crucial for so many of the most basic biologic functions. Cells need to be hydrated with water or they literally shrivel up and can’t do their job as efficiently,” says Robin Foroutan, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That includes an impaired ability to expel environmental waste and detox; if you’re dehydrated you may feel cloudy-headed, have headaches or feel constipated, among other ills.
Plain water should always reign as your drink of choice. “It has a better capacity to usher out metabolic toxins from the body compared to liquid that already has something dissolved in it, like coffee or tea,” says Foroutan. However, there are certain additions that can make the once-plain sip seem more interesting and deliver health benefits, too.
Here, alternative hydration boosters to try (and which ones to skip):
Not only does a slice of lemon provide a refreshing taste, but “it’s alkaline-forming, meaning it helps balance out things that are naturally acidic in the body,” says Foroutan. This can have an added post-workout benefit “it can reduce lactic acid, an end product of exercising muscles,” she says.
This amino acid supplement is in a powder form, so it dissolves nicely in water and has a lemon-like taste, says Foroutan. “Acetyl L-Carnitine is a mitochondrial booster. Your mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells that make cellular energy, help the body use fat for fuel more efficiently,” she says.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for overall health and plays a key role in keeping the brain and nervous system working. “It’s mainly found in animal products, meaning many vegetarians and vegans need to supplement with it, but even some meat eaters have trouble absorbing it,” says Foroutan. “You can have the best kind of diet and even feel OK but have a B12 level that’s less than optimal. When we bring those levels up, people tend to feel more energetic and their mood is better,” she says. Try adding a dropper-full of B12 to your glass of water once a day, suggests Foroutan.
Many grocery stores now stock bottled hydrogen water, but a less expensive solution is purchasing molecular hydrogen tablets to add to your drink. “These can be used to help balance inflammation in the body,” says Foroutan. While inflammation is a normal body process — it happens during exercise, too — low-grade chronic inflammation is damaging. One review in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded hydrogen may also boost exercise performance, though researchers are still examining potential mechanisms.
If you have trouble getting enough water because you don’t like the taste, then a bubbly drink (one that contains zero artificial or real sweeteners) can be a healthy way to motivate yourself to drink more. Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found sparkling water was just as hydrating as regular water. Still, there’s some concern these drinks may wear away at tooth enamel, (although the American Dental Association says they’re far better than soda), so consume carbonated water in moderation.
If you’re active, you lose electrolytes in sweat and it’s important to replace them, but in a smart way, says Foroutan. Many bottled electrolyte waters contain just a trace amount and are often loaded with added sugars, notes Foroutan, so it’s important to read the labels carefully. You can also skip the sugary drinks altogether by buying electrolyte tablets and dissolving them in water. What’s more, “you can get electrolytes from leafy greens (Think: a handful of spinach in your smoothie or a chicken-topped salad),” says Foroutan.
Alkaline water has a higher pH than regular water, but alkalized bottled water is expensive, and there just isn’t enough research to support making the investment, according to the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. Foroutan agrees there’s no reason to buy it bottled, but if you really want to try it “you can add a pinch of baking soda to water to create alkaline water.”