Rosie Greenaway hears tales from the high seas and learns from an elite athlete why hydration means everything for performance
There’s thirst, and then there’s the kind of dehydration which can only be experienced by elite athletes, pushing their bodies to the limits in record-breaking challenges as nature throws everything it’s got at them. This is how it was for Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, founder of British brand ACTIPH, which makes alkaline water.
Imagine, if you will, rowing from the western coast of Australia to the shores of Africa – because that’s what Douglas-Hamilton was doing when the importance of proper hydration was illustrated to him first-hand.
An oar-some idea
His group spent two-and-half-months manually rowing across the Indian Ocean – two hours on, two hours off, burning 10,000 calories a day as they battled the high seas. En route, they each consumed between nine and 13 litres of water a day. “After two weeks we were exhausted, we had sores all over our bodies, we were hallucinating, we actually started to pass out on the oars because you have very little electrolytes in your body.
“One person in our crew mixed sea water into our desalinated water and he couldn’t believe the effect it had. He asked us all to try it … [we] had power right until the end of a two-hour session – normally you would flag in the last 40 minutes. Speed increased straight away, we didn’t get hallucinations, we didn’t get pass-outs. We then realized what hydration is to performance. Hydration is the absolute key. It is the most underestimated element of performance. It’s something people take for granted.”
It’s a lesson that has served the crew well in further endeavours, as the group has since navigated the most dangerous stretch of ocean in the world – The Drake Passage – successfully rowing from South America to Antarctica.
While the alkaline sea water his teammate added to their desalinated water didn’t make it into the final ACTIPH recipe, it was the inspiration behind the finished product the brand eventually brought to market. “We realized the more alkaline it is, the quicker it gets into your blood, the quicker it hydrates and delivers those electrolytes to your body.”
And it’s not just elite athletes benefitting from the science behind ACTIPH; thanks to its pH levels of between 9-9.8, it prevents the build-up of pepsin – the enzyme which causes acid reflux – making it the ideal product for pregnant women and anyone with chronic inflammatory gut issues such as Crohn’s, IBS or GORD.
“I came back from rowing, was looking at the water market all over the world, and found in Japan they’ve been ionizing water which is approved by the ministry of health for people with intestinal problems. It wasn’t actually a mass-market product; it was a holistic treatment for people with these problems.” Now, he says, alkaline water is ‘the fastest growing beverage category in the world’, expected to reach $4.3 million by 2023.
Glass half empty
ACTIPH’s studies show the UK to be ‘a very dehydrated nation’. “90% of Brits don’t drink the recommended daily amount. A crazy amount [20%] of those we interviewed drank over a litre of coffee a day, which obviously dehydrates you. If you look at the macro trends, [UK] water consumption is the fifth lowest from the bottom out of all the European countries,” says Douglas-Hamilton.
These figures are backed up by research from hydration expert Air Up, which analyzed ‘the complexities behind Brits’ fraught relationship with water’ and found that not only is water perceived as ‘boring’, but 45% of us (23,152,000) only drink one glass of it a day.
Considering the huge benefits of staying hydrated for cognitive function, perhaps it’s time for a shift in messaging about the humble glass of water? “I think health just has to be at the top of the agenda. You hear a lot about healthy eating, but you don’t hear a lot about healthy drinking. 70% of the human body is made out of water – 92% of our blood is made out of water, 85% of our brains is made out of water. So even if you drop your fluid levels by 2% that has a huge impact on endurance sports. It can make you very anxious … more irritable. They’ve actually proved that the more hydrated you are the better your concentration and memory is.”
Message in a bottle
It’s impossible to discuss water without mentioning plastic bottles. Douglas-Hamilton says that prior to Blue Planet II, the category was, in fact, ‘climbing very, very quickly’, but what has dominated since then is fierce debate about its packaging.
“After the David Attenborough documentary everything was anti-plastic, however a key measure now is global warming. The plastic debate has actually come around full circle, which is interesting.” He points out that a plastic bottle requires less CO2 to produce and recycle than other packaging types – which is, in part, why the brand has been ‘following the Tetra Pak and canned routes’ but has not yet committed to them as an alternative. “We’re always looking for different answers, but from a CO2 perspective a can requires more CO2 than plastic. From a CO2 perspective, plastic bottles are actually a good option.”
ACTIPH uses PET, which is BPA-free, and its cap and label are fully recyclable, meaning it’s not necessary for the consumer to remove the sleeve before disposing of the empty bottle in household recycling. “We’ve made a commitment to use 100% RPET by 2023 in all our bottles so that means we won’t be using any plastic from petrochemicals. The problem we have now is there’s not enough good quality RPET on the market. It just takes time for industry to build these facilities and for recycling to become a daily norm for these things to really work.”
Another reason he chooses to stick with transparent packaging is consumer mindset: “If it’s water, people like to be able to see it. That is one of the issues you’re facing. If it’s in a can, what are you trying to hide? The subconscious mind plays a huge role in decision-making and cans are associated with soft drinks, with something that’s got flavour. So when you open a can and you get something like water they probably think it’s quite bland.”
“Hydration is the absolute key. It is the most underestimated element of performance. It’s something people take for granted”
“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea,” so the Isak Dinesen saying goes. And it’s this mantra that helps define the philosophy of fellow alkaline water brand REFIX. Taken from the Atlantic’s cold, rough waters, the seawater in REFIX offers 70 minerals – sodium, chloride, magnesium, calcium and potassium being the most prevalent, alongside trace minerals in smaller doses. Organic, vegan and keto-friendly, the brand says Atlantic Rough Water boasts a multitude of physical benefits: from reducing tiredness and fatigue, supporting the nervous system and strengthening muscle function, to aiding the immune system, balancing electrolytes and helping maintain bones and teeth. Pitched as the perfect hydration tool after ‘strenuous, prolonged physical activities’ or ‘a long day at the office’, it can also perk you up after ‘a fun day under the scorching sun or a long, crazy night out partying’, according to the brand. Flavour-wise there are two options – Lemon and Orange – neither of which contain any refined sugar.
Also making waves in the functional fluids category is FYX – a collagen-infused spring water range which blends health and hydration in two variants: FYX Body (raspberry, açaí, white tea and aloe vera) and FYX Beauty (lemon, lime, moringa tea, lemon balm and aloe vera). The former is designed to help replenish the body pre- and post-workout and repair any damage to ligaments; the latter focuses on boosting skin elasticity and hair and nail strength. Hydrolyzed fish collagen is combined with antioxidant ingredients in an RTD format.
When co-founder Theresa Williams first dipped her toes into Australia’s collagen market, the UK’s own sector was in its infancy. Together with business partner Andy Mass, she sought to bring to market a product which sat at the intersection between soft drinks, sports nutrition and beauty from within.
“I believe consumers want more from a drink than just great flavour – they want it to add to their wellbeing too,” says Williams. “Collagen is such a powerful ingredient that it was the obvious choice for a functional drink. The trouble is, it usually tastes awful, and the consistency is gloopy. We’ve worked very hard to ensure that FYX is not just beneficial but also tastes great.”
The stories behind the sweets
Behind every tray of Jelly Drops, there’s a story. That’s the message from Lewis Hornby, founder of a line of award-winning ‘water sweets’ developed to hydrate dementia sufferers who are struggling to drink. Made in East London with 95% water, these are gummies which ‘allow people to boost their water intake independently and with dignity’. Sugar-free and vegan, each recyclable tray of drops offers the user 300ml of water, with only natural flavourings to add a burst of strawberry, lemon, lime, raspberry, blackcurrant or orange to each bite.
The concept came to Hornby when he spent time in his late grandmother’s care home – seeing her struggle to stay hydrated but knowing her appetite for treats had not diminished, he formulated Jelly Drops as a ‘stigma-free’ solution to hydration which can be ‘shared by all’. A video clip of his grandma enjoying early prototypes of the drops went viral; soon, people undergoing chemotherapy and those with learning disabilities wanted to try them. Hornby and his small team spent 18 months developing the finished product, before attracting the attention of the Alzheimer’s Society, which supported the brand’s journey to market and now receives 1% of Jelly Drops’ profit in return.
Following his 2020 UK launch, Hornby plans to make Jelly Drops available in the United States by September.
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Actiph Water is Europe’s leading alkaline ionised water, founded by 7 time Guinness World Record holder and ultra-endurance athlete, Jamie Douglas-Hamilton. Made from fresh Shropshire spring water with a unique blend of added electrolytes and ionised to pH 9+, Actiph is the refreshing and convenient alkaline alternative to our highly acidic modern lifestyles.
Alkaline water is one of the fastest growing beverage categories in the world with the industry forecast to be worth $4.2bn globally by 2024. Since launching in 2017, Actiph has seen a CAGR of 131% as more and more consumers discover the benefits for themselves.
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