These brands want to hack the way we hydrate
Water is good, but these brands say that adding electrolytes makes it even better.
John Sherwin, cofounder of electrolyte powder brand Hydrant, is trying to describe what it feels like to be perfectly hydrated - but it’s hard work.
“It’s not something that’s easy to describe with words,” he admits. “It’s sort of... feeling even-keeled and energized. It’s like an energy from within.”
Much more concrete is the science behind how Hydrant and similar products work. As an Oxford University biology graduate, Sherwin has this bit down.
“Essentially, when salts and sugar are present in the right quantities, the salt molecules are pumped into the bloodstream and the water molecules can follow them,” he says. This relationship is known as the “sodium-glucose co-transport mechanism” – and hydration drinks that hack this reaction are expected to become a $1.8 billion market over the next four years.
Alongside Hydrant, launched in 2017, Cure Hydration has created a thirst-quenching powder aimed at athletes, while No Days Wasted is tapping into the appeal of Silicon Valley's self-optimization fixation with its hangover cures and hydration products. The brand’s founder (an ex-Tesla employee) Nishal Kumar reckons that by the end of 2021, No Days Wasted will hit $2 million in sales, up from $1.2 million last year.
Brands in adjacent wellness categories are also feeling thirsty. In January, protein powder brand Gainful launched a hydration powder; a month later, supplement startup Beam debuted a range of functional hydration sachets that contain ingredients like caffeine, collagen and probiotics.
It’s not just electrolyte-packed powders hacking hydration. Mitte has created a water filter that both purifies and adds minerals back into its H2O, while Soma has a plastic-free filter that removes metals and odors from tap water.
The dehydration problem in America is a big one. A landmark 1998 study by New York Hospital and Cornell Medical Center (cited on nearly all of the electrolyte brands’ websites) found that 75% of Americans are dehydrated.
More recent data doesn’t paint a much better picture. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 43% of Americans drink less than four cups of water per day (eight is recommended), while over a quarter of respondents to a 2019/20 Waterlogic survey said they wait until they’re already thirsty to have a drink of water during the work day. By that point, however, dehydration has already kicked in.
The solution might seem painfully obvious – just drink more water – but actually getting people to do it is difficult. Common complaints include that the taste of water is boring (or bad), or that drinking a lot of it necessitates too many trips to the bathroom.
For a health-focused few, overhydration can also be an issue. Lauren Picasso, the founder of Cure Hydration, struggled with this exact problem. After exercising, she would find herself wiped out for hours. “What I realized is that even though I was drinking plenty of water, I was draining my system of minerals,” she explains. “There’s a funny myth that the color of your urine is supposed to be completely clear. But that’s not the case – that would be an indication you’ve had way too much water.”
By far the biggest challenge this crop of modern hydration brands face is convincing people that not only is hydration something they need to pay attention to, but also that they should try something other than water to fix it.
“Hydration is about fluid balance, it’s not just about water,” Sherwin says. “That is the biggest education problem that all of the hydration companies face.”
Cure, launched in 2019, based its recipe on the tried-and-tested WHO Oral Rehydration Solution, which has been in use since the 1970s. What Cure has done differently, compared to others, is replace all synthetic ingredients with natural alternatives, in line with what today’s wellness crowd clamors for. "Instead of using sugar and synthetic minerals, we use organic coconut water and Himalayan salt,” she says.
The company’s advisory board, listed on its website, is also packed with experts: one, Dr. Dana Cohen, has literally written the book on hydration.
Both Cure and No Days Wasted say they conduct third-party tests on every production run to make sure the product meets their standards.
Getting people into the habit of tearing open electrolyte packets on a regular basis is another common challenge these brands share.
Here, the focus is both on flavor – watermelon and elderberry sound nicer than more vague citrus flavors – and added functionality. No Days Wasted, for example, adds immune-enhancing vitamins to its hydration sachets, while Hydrant offers a caffeine-boosted variant. Offfield’s hydration product aimed at runners contains CBD to combat muscle inflammation.
The brands are also experimenting with ways they can support people’s existing routines. No Days Wasted’s Kumar says his customers often first engage with the brand with a specific use case in mind – nipping a hangover in the bud – but will often start adding hydration packets to their basket after becoming familiar with the concept of enhancing their tap water. “Hydration is really picking up steam,” he says. “Often we see customers ordering both products.”
Many are looking for ways to cut down on their caffeine intake – something improved hydration can help. “That two o clock wall you hit when the coffee’s worn off, that’s an important time to rip open a hydration pack, pour it in some water and drink it,” Kumar explains.
In February, Hydrant presented a rather counterintuitive use case for hydration sachets with the launch of a sleep product. Half an hour before bed, it recommends mixing up its magnesium and melatonin-packed powder with 8oz of water.
“We started getting customers reporting that they were drinking our regular hydration products before bed,” Sherwin explains. "So we made a fit-for-purpose product.”
“Everyone can benefit from adding electrolytes to their diet,” Picasso concludes. “We’re constantly losing fluids and minerals every minute of the day, and you need to replenish what you lose.”
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