Guest reviewer Henry Zonio tackles functional mixes and flavor additives, including this look at hydration tablets.
“Optimal hydration.” Those are the words used over and over again on the Nuun website. Nuun, pronounced “noon,” is a dissolvable tablet that is to be dropped into a 16 oz water bottle providing a flavored concoction which promises to replace electrolytes lost when the body is dehydrated.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, isn’t that what Gatorade is for?” You would be partly right. Unlike Nuun, which only contains electrolytes, Gatorade and other sports drinks also provide sugars, complex carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins and sometimes stimulants like caffeine, taurine, ginseng or guarana. Nuun prides itself on simply replacing electrolytes:
“…we know some people simply want to avoid unnecessary carbs, and it doesn’t make sense to consume sports drinks loaded with them. Now, if you’re participating in intense exercises lasting more than 60 to 90 minutes, you should consume carbohydrates to ensure energy levels for working muscles. But how you do that is up to you. Everyone manages energy consumption differently, whether it’s with sports bars, gel or other sources of calories and carbohydrates.”
So, what’s all this talk about electrolytes, and why should you even care? For those of you who may have slept through high school biology, here’s a quick refresher. The cells in our bodies are made primarily of water. In order for our bodies to work properly, we need to stay properly hydrated. In other words, we need to drink plenty of water! So why isn’t drinking water enough? Well, our bodies use electrolytes to regulate the amount of water in our cells. If we run low on electrolytes, it is harder to stay hydrated, and we can quickly become dehydrated causing weakness, disorientation and, in sever cases, death. Electrolytes also play a key role in muscle and nervous system functions. I won’t go into detail about that. I can already sense some of you lapsing into a coma. Suffice it to say that electrolytes are important!
Electrolyte balance becomes even more important when you are an athlete. The most common way for the body to lose precious electrolytes is through sweat, and athletes sweat a lot! This is where Nuun enters the picture. Nuun is “a small startup comprised of competitive cyclists, skiers, rock climbers, runners and triathletes” who needed a way to replace electrolytes in an easy and effective way without the extras that come as part of typical sports drinks. The makers of Nuun figure that it’s easy enough to regulate things like carbs and proteins, but electrolytes are trickier.
Let’s take a look at the product. I was provided with five different flavors to test drive: Tropical, Fruit Punch, Grape, Strawberry Lemonade, and Lemon Tea (which happens to be ‘Caffeine Enhanced’). The tablets come in a tube that reminded me those tubes with the chlorine and pH testing strips I used when I was a lifeguard in college. Even the logo design is reminiscent of a pool chemical supplies company.
Each tab dissolved in 16 oz of water is under 8 calories and contains sodium carbonates (360 mg), potassium bicarbonate (100 mg), calcium carbonate (12.5 mg), magnesium sulfate (25 mg), Vitamin C (37.5 mg), Vitamin B12 (500 mcg), sorbitol, natural colors and flavors, and polyethylene glycol. (Lemon Tea contains 40 mg of caffeine per serving.)
Upon opening each of the tubes, I was greeting with the same kind of powdery sweet smell you get when you open a gelatin package of a similar flavor except for the lemon tea, which smelled like Nestea Instant Tea powder. The tablets looked were about the size of a half-dollar coin, but thicker, resembling an Alka-Seltzer or Airbourne tablet. When I dropped the tabs in water, they fizzed just like these types of tablets. It took about two minutes for a tab to dissolve, and each flavored tab slightly colored the water to match the flavor.
How does Nuun taste? According to the Nuun site:
“Our new flavor lineup includes a modern take on your old favorites. This medley will transport you back to summer days on the old cul-de-sac when a skinned knee or a grass stain were quickly erased by a cold glass of fruit punch, strawberry lemonade, or a grape popsicle. In classic Nuun fashion, the flavors are lush without being overpowering, sweet but still light. It’s nostalgia in a glass without the sugar crash.”
After reading a description like that you’d expect to maybe get something resembling Crystal Light. What I got was something that more resembled Alka-Seltzer with diluted flavoring. While Grape, Lemon Tea, and Fruit Punch did resemble watered down versions of what you’d expect from a powdered drink mix, Tropical was more reminiscent of diluted peach flavoring. As far as Strawberry Lemonade… let’s just say it didn’t taste like strawberry lemonade.
That being said about these flavors, the sole purpose of Nuun is electrolyte replacement. Electrolytes come from salts. I can’t say from experience, but if you are running a marathon or in a long distance cycling race, the last thing on your mind when wanting to keep your electrolytes and hydration balanced is vibrant, true-to-life flavors. I think Nuun would be better off focusing on the purpose of their drink tablets rather than overstating the flavors their tablets come in.
Nuun seems to be hitting a growing niche of drinks targeted at hydration replenishment effectively. I like their aim at doing one thing, “optimal hydration” through electrolyte replacement, and doing that thing well. It’s a viable alternative to other sports drinks, especially if you want to pass on the extra sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins in those sports drinks. It also seems to be a good value at $6 per tube of 12 tablets, which comes out to $.50 for 16 oz of hydration… that’s definitely less than a sports drink!
Official Website: Nuun.com