Not all water is created equal
Even though vitamin and mineral-based sports drinks are important during longer bouts of training and competition for fuel and electrolytes, hydrating on a regular basis with pure, clean water is an integral part of any fighter’s gameplan. Decreases in athletic performance can be seen with as little as a 2% loss of body weight in sweat. Strength, speed, endurance, and cognitive function can all be negatively affected when you’re not properly hydrated. So, it’s simple: drink lots of water.
However, in recent years, the choices regarding the type of water you select have burgeoned. Other than tap water (which is not the best choice), there are an enormous number of filtered and bottled options on the market today. From basic bottled water to H2O infused with vitamins and electrolytes, and from filters that purify your water via reverse osmosis to the simple one you keep in the side panel of your fridge, you practically need a science degree to figure out what to drink. When did water become so complicated?
For those who can afford other options, tap water should be a last resort. Unfortunately, more and more contaminants such as chlorine, disinfection byproducts, hormonally active chemicals, and potential carcinogens show up in tap water every year. When most people realize that tap water is far from optimal, they almost immediately turn their attention to bottled water. But pay attention, because:
1) There are a lot of bottled options to choose from.
2) Many bottled waters are not anywhere near as pure as you think.
Bottled water is big business—multi-billion dollar big business. If people aren’t walking down the street with a Starbucks latte, it’s usually bottled water. That’s certainly better than drinking a soda or other high-fructose corn syrup concoction, but do your homework on what you’re drinking. Make sure when the label says that you’re drinking the “purest water from a mountain spring” that you actually are. More than likely, you’re not.
In early 2011, the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a scorecard that rated 173 bottled waters from the previous year based on source, treatment, and quality. The results were a bit shocking. Of the brands, 18% failed to reveal the geographic source of their water, 32% didn’t want to talk about their treatment methods or purity testing, and 13% provide water quality reports without any actual testing results. Not one single bottled water brand scored an “A.” Not one. Gerber Pure Purified Water, Nestle Pure Life Purified Water, and Penta Ultra- Purified Water were the only 3 to get B’s. All the other companies received C’s, D’s, and F’s, which are very poor marks for something you’re paying through the nose for and counting on for purity. Couple these results with the fact that many of the plastics of these bottled waters can leach chemicals, bottled water suddenly doesn’t sound like such a good idea. In a pinch, however, two of those three with B’s (assuming you’re not going to buy Gerber baby bottled water) may be good to have on hand for emergencies.
FILTERING THE H2O CONFUSION
That brings us to filtered water, and similar to the bottled version, there’s a titanic array of choices. The technologies most companies utilize, however, make up a shorter list. When searching for a filter system that’s right for you and your home, the main options you’ll see will most likely be carbon filters, ceramic filters, reverse osmosis systems, ion exchange, sub-micron filtration, and combinations of those.
• Activated carbon filters such as granulated carbon filters and carbon block filters (more effective) use activated carbon to bond with and remove some contaminants in water. Effectiveness varies greatly from those solely improving taste and smell by removing only chlorine, while others may be able to remove things such as lead, mercury, and volatile organic compounds (VOGs), which may irritate skin and mucous membranes, as well as depress the central nervous system.
• Ceramic filters use very small holes to block contaminants such as sediments, bacteria, and cysts, but the filters do not remove chemicals.
• Reverse osmosis utilizes a semi-permeable membrane that retains particles larger than water and removes many contaminants not eliminated by a carbon filter, including hexavalent chromium, nitrate, arsenic, and perchlorate, which is an ingredient used in rocket fuel. Unfortunately, we need things like this filtered from our drinking water.
• Ion exchange and sub-micron filters are usually used in combination with carbon filters for a greater range of contaminant removal, including chlorine, lead, pesticides, VOCs, cysts, trihalomethanes (THMs), which have caused cancer in lab animals and can trigger free radical production in the body, and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which is added to fuel to raise octane and is considered a potential human carcinogen.
Models of the technologies above for drinking and cooking water include refillable pitchers kept in the fridge, on-the-counter units, and under-the-sink units. Shower filters and whole-house filters are also available. The pitcher-style filters you refill from your tap and keep in the fridge—such as the Brita and PUR filters—are generally least effective, yet the most available and easiest on your wallet. They typically utilize an activated carbon filter that removes only a few contaminants, while improving taste and smell. Although the initial cost is low, frequent filter changes are typically necessary. On-counter units—such as Aquasana and Multi-Pure—typically sit in very close proximity to the sink with a line connected directly to the faucet. Filter technology ranges from activated carbon to reverse osmosis. Some will also offer ion exchange and sub-micron filtration. These will be more expensive than the pitchers, but much more effective and require relatively infrequent filter changes. Under-the-sink units—such as Aquasana, Aqua Pure, Multi-Pure, and Watts Premier—are similar to the on-counter systems as far as filtration type and quality is concerned, but these are fitted to the water supply out of sight (under the sink) and can provide water from a separate tap. These will require installation and will have a slightly higher price tag.
Choosing a filter depends on your budget, the current contaminant status of your tap water, and how much installation you want to deal with. In addition, be sure to look for filters that are certified by NSF and/or Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Of course, all this fancy filtered water you now have is best consumed from a glass when at home or from a stainless steel water bottle when on the go and at the gym. Avoid plastics as often as possible. You just filtered out a lot of crap, so don’t risk putting it back in with the chemicals that plastics may leach into your water, especially when stored in warmer environments (anywhere during the summer months, in your car, in the dishwasher, or in direct sunlight). Plastics are convenient, but many leach harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), which is an endocrine system disruptor that mimics hormones such as estrogen and possibly leads to hormone irregularities. Stainless steel water bottles are the better choice, but if you must use plastic, do not keep it in extreme temperatures and check the numbers on the bottom of the bottle. Avoid 3, 6, and 7, as they come with higher risks to your health and the environment. Numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 have fewer risks. For BPA-free and
stainless steel choices, check out companies such as New Wave Enviro, Klean Kanteen, CamelBak, and ThinkSport.
You should get a yearly report from your water supplier in the mail (called a consumer confidence report or drinking water quality report), explaining where your water is coming from and what’s in it. Certainly, some city water utilities will put out better quality water than others. In December 2009, the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a tap water quality database that was based on chemicals detected, percentage of chemicals found of those detected, and levels in relation to legal limits and national averages. Arlington, TX, Providence, RI, Fort Worth TX, Charleston, SC, and Boston, MA, made top grades, while Pensacola, FL, Riverside, CA, Las Vegas, NV, Riverside County, CA, and Reno, NV, rounded out the bottom.
An updated database is coming in the near future, and you can also check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website for the latest information regarding the unfortunately huge list of contaminants, maximum levels allowed, and your local water.