Once synonymous with palm trees and beaches, coconut water took on new meaning—as a recovery aid and health-promoting super-drink—a few years back when it caught the attention of the wellness community. The hallowed drink then monopolized the workout beverage industry, ousting other sources of hydration, even though its superiority is increasingly called into question.
Even so, new plants are itching for the limelight, making their way into water bottles. Maple is moving away from pancake stacks. The prickly plants of the desert, cacti, are promising to hydrate, too. Even artichokes have their own drink.
And they all have health benefits—to an extent. "The benefit is the entirety of the plant," explains Stacy Sims, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist-nutrition scientist. "The fiber and the complete aspect of aloe or cacti or maple syrup or artichoke create the health benefits. When you take the compounds out of nature—removing the antioxidant agents, vitamins, or minerals by extraction or squeezing juice out—you remove many of the co-factors that make things effective," she says.
Here, four buzzed-about plant-based drinks, examined.
The Plan: Artichokes are full of antioxidants and compounds that inhibit cholesterol synthesis and increase bile production—reducing overall blood cholesterol, explains Sims. "The whole veggie is also high in fiber, folate, and trace minerals such as potassium, manganese, copper, and iron. Holistic practitioners also use artichoke extracts for liver detoxification," she says.
In water form: Newly launched Arty Water uses the whole artichoke—instead of just the leaves—maximizing the antioxidant profile. The beverage is sweetened with fresh lemon and apple, adding 10 grams of sugar. "This could be good post-workout because of the sodium, potassium, and fiber. Fiber isn't necessarily something you want to have a lot of before you exercise—though Arty Water contains only two grams," says Cassie Kipper, R.D., and personal trainer manager at Equinox Loop in Chicago.
The plant: Maple syrup has long been touted as the sweetener of the athletes. "It is the most unprocessed of all sweeteners," says Sims. It's water boiled off the sap. "It has no additives, preservatives, bleaching agents, and it is not fructose. It is rich in antioxidants, but also manganese, and zinc—critical for cardiovascular and immune system health."
In water form: Though the benefits of maple have been shown through scientific studies, maple water hasn't been shown to replicate those claims yet. And while the product is low in calories and naturally occurring sugars, you don't necessarily want antioxidants in or around exercise, says Sims. That's because—at the muscle cell level—it's key that your body overcomes oxidation on its own. In fact, recent research has shown that antioxidant supplementation might mitigate the effects of your workout.
Prickly Pear Cactus Water
The plant: "There are different types of cacti fruit, but the overarching health benefits all come from the whole fruit—a large dose of pectin (fiber). Cacti are also high in antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus," says Sims.
In water form: Caliwater is a gluten-free, vegan cactus water that promotes skin benefits and hangover relief, among other hydrating features like detoxification. But don't expect the benefits to equal those of the whole plant: "Cactus water is a small amount of cactus fruit extract with added color, flavor and stevia," says Sims. For extra hydration, you can always consider something as simple as 16 ounces of water with an eighth of a teaspoon salt, she says.
Aloe Vera Water
The plant: The health benefits of aloe vera are vast—the leaf is packed with 75 nutrients, 20 minerals, 12 vitamins, 18 amino acids, and 200 enzymes, according to the Global Healing Center. It's been shown to have antioxidant effects, as well as healing properties (hello, sunburns).
In water form: Alo Drink is made with real aloe vera extract (pulp and juice) and fills you with vitamins and minerals. But not-so-natural ingredients (natural grape flavor—not grapes) make the nutrition label too, Kipper notes—and Alo Drink's third ingredient is sugar. What's more, Sims notes that some people experience unpleasant stomach-related side effects too.