Why Effervescent Tablets?
There are a number of forms of electrolytes you can take to replenish your losses. These include powders you mix with water, capsules (like pills) you take like medicine, and effervescent tablets.
This review focuses on effervescent tablets, specifically Nuun Sport, Precision Hydration, GU Hydration, and Hammer Endurolytes Fizz.
Effervescent forms of electrolytes like these are ideal for pre- and post-workout hydration. Plus, I think they taste better and are more refreshing than any powder or pill so I’d rather have this after a workout than another form.
I think effervescent tablets are also appropriate for use in the gym, doing yoga, swimming, on the sidelines of a game, or anything else where you don’t have to carry the bottle around and shake it up.
I would not take these with me on a run or a bike. If you mix them in a bottle, close it, and agitate it, the carbonation will eventually build up pressure in the bottle. I’ve tried it and had a bottle top pop open as it gets shaken up. Also, it would be cumbersome carry and then mix these while riding or running.
I have heard of people taking these things raw and undissolved, which to me sounds horrible unless you like the rabid-foaming-mouth look.
If you’re looking for something to take on your rides (or runs), go for a mix, or even capsules. All four of these brands have powdered mixes. Precision Hydration has capsules (pills) which I take on runs, but only in races.
So now that we have an understanding of when, where, and why you would use effervescent tablets over a powdered mix or capsule, let’s get into the review.
The 4 Brands
Nuun, Precision Hydration, GU, and Hammer are big brands in the world of electrolyte tablets. Precision Hydration and Hammer seem to be more niche and focused on endurance sports with a loyal and dedicated following while Nuun and GU appear to be much more mass market and more widely available.
Nuun is a company from Seattle, Washington which is focused on hydration. Their products are made in Minneapolis, MN and Salt Lake City, UT and are all vegan and gluten free.
Beyond the Nuun Sport product this review covers, they have other tablets for things like immunity, vitamins, and rest. Their products seem to be marketed beyond the endurance athlete and into the lifestyle space.
It’s worth mentioning that Nuun has what they call the Podium Series which is three products, in the form of powdered mixes:
- Prime – Pre-workout, 500 mg sodium, 175 mg potassium, 154 mg chloride, 40 mg magnesium
- Endurance – During-workout, 380 mg sodium, 200 mg potassium, 20 mg magnesium, 80 mg chloride
- Recover – Post-workout, 250 mg sodium 500 mg potassium, 145mg chloride
So those are valid mix options from Nuun; however the topic here is effervescent tablets.
Precision Hydration is from the UK and is really focused on the endurance athlete. They only do hydration products for sport – no endurance fuels, no gels, no proteins. Read about the team here or have a look at the interview I did with the founder Andy Blow here.
I really like PH for their extremely focused and scientific approach to hydration and sodium. They’re not worried about much else, and this makes me really trust their advice and products.
GU Energy Labs, based out of Berkeley, CA, has been around since 1993. You may know them for their gels, energy drinks, or excellent waffles. You can check out the review I did of their products here.
GU has only one variant of effervescent tablets, across four flavours.
Hammer, a third brand from the western US (Whitefish, MT) also has a wide product range, including vitamins, CBD (cannabidiol), and even coffee. I’ve loved Hammer for years and have relied on their products to get me through some of the darkest times.
The product of theirs we’re covering now is their Endurolytes Fizz. Of course they have other forms of electrolytes, but Fizz is their effervescent variant, and comes in five flavours.
In terms of popularity, that may be reflected in the Google Trends searches for each brand. These show the volume of searches for each term over the last two years. (Aug 2018-Aug 2020).
Take all this with a pinch of sodium – we’re comparing product names with brand names and it may not be totally indicative of real search interest, but it’s a good relative yardstick.
“Nuun hydration” seems to dominate the search volume quite clearly, with PH in second and GU and Hammer bouncing all over the place.
But it doesn’t really matter. This is no indication of quality, efficacy, or much else – except marketing.
In the end, they all do the same thing: Replenish your body with electrolytes in a tablet form.
Let’s have a closer look at the serving sizes and amounts of electrolytes in each tablet. This is where it gets interesting, and where we can start making objective comparisons between the four.
|Nuun Sport||PH 1500 / 1000 / 500||GU Hydration||Hammer Fizz|
|Tablet size (g)||5.5||6.6||4.6||4.4|
|Suggested serving||500 ml / 16 oz||500 ml / 16 oz||500 ml / 16 oz||500 ml / 16 oz|
|Sodium (mg)||300||750 / 500 / 250||320||200|
In terms of nutrition and electrolytes, the Nuun Sport and the PH 500 are pretty close; the PH 1000, and 1500 are otherwise identical save the sodium. GU has fewer electrolytes (no calcium or magnesium) and less potassium. Hammer has the lowest sodium but more of the other electrolytes.
Sodium, however is the main thing to look at. And if we compare Nuun, PH 500, and GU, we’re looking at similar figures (300, 250, 320mg). But then PH blows the rest out of the saltwater with 500 or 750mg, depending on which of the PHs you go for.
Also, Precision Hydration claims, “…we’ve adjusted the quantities of the minor electrolytes Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium to bring them into line with the amounts found in the average person’s sweat.”
However, they should know that these amounts vary widely between individuals.
It’s also worth nothing how Precision Hydration names their products. The number denotes the amount of sodium IN TWO TABLETS.
In other words…
- PH 1500 = 750 mg of sodium
- PH 1000 = 500 mg of sodium
- PH 500 = 250 mg of sodium
So to me, this is a bit misleading. I imagine they do this to make the numbers look bigger and more impressive, but it just creates confusion and could even result in athletes miscalculating their sodium needs.
Sweet and Salty
Here we’ll talk a bit about what each brand uses to sweeten their products and what they use to derive their sodium, as well as a bit about their flavours.
Hammer states the following, “Sorbitol, like xylitol, and stevia, are undeniably healthier sweeteners when compared to the artificial ones plaguing the sports fuel market, and that’s precisely why—along with the natural flavors we use—they are included in Hammer Nutrition fuels. Sorbitol, because of its dual superior tablet binding and sweetening properties, is the logical choice for Endurolytes FIZZ.”
The thing is, Nuun and GU both use stevia and / or sorbitol, so it’s not like Hammer’s Fizz is in any way unique here.
PH uses dextrose monohydrate but so do Nuun and GU.
In addition to organic stevia, GU uses cane sugar.
The sodium PH uses is sodium citrate, which they claim is less harsh on the stomach than sodium chloride which is acidic.
In terms of taste, the PH is a hard one to describe. It’s kind of sweet, but a mild citrus. It’s not flavoured like any particular fruit or other common taste.
I have used it for years and have always liked it. I am able to tolerate it for hours upon hours of use (like 5-6 hours on the bike in a full Ironman).
The Nuun Sport, on the other hand, comes in a huge range of flavours such as:
- Cherry Limeade + Caffeine
- Citrus Fruit
- Fresh Lime + Caffeine
- Fruit Punch
- Kiwi Strawberry
- Kona Cola + Caffeine
- Lemon Lime
- Mango Orange + Caffeine
- Strawberry Lemonade
- Wild Berry + Caffeine
I think I got sweaty just writing all those!
The Nuun Sport watermelon I tried was quite mild – not as intense as the UCAN Watermelon (which I really do love – but that’s a mix, not a tablet).
You may have noticed some of the Nuun products have caffeine in them. Most are 40mg, which to me is next to nothing, and hardly worth noting.
However, I’m a big coffee drinker and I may have some tolerance. Also, caffeine affects everybody differently. But still, 40mg is not much. A short Starbucks Brewed Coffee (236 ml or 8oz) – has 180mg of caffeine in it.
Neither PH nor GU have caffeine, but Hammer does, in its Cola flavour – but only a tiny 20mg. What!
GU also has a range of flavours, all of which Nuun also has – down to the exact name:
- Strawberry Lemonade
- Lemon Lime
They taste fine, nothing special.
Hammer’s Fizz comes in:
- Cola (with caffeine)
Like the others, Hammer is very mild – almost like drinking water to me. I think it is the mildest of the group.
It’s surprising that the per-tablet price range varies so much, but I still see a clear and irreplaceable market for the PH 1500, the most expensive of the bunch. The others just don’t have the sodium to match it and until they do, I’ll continue buying PH 1500.
Prices quoted here are from each brand’s website (Aug 2020) and may be significantly higher in retail stores. Or, they may be lower on Amazon or elsewhere. Also, all offer promo codes or discounts, but those are not factored in here.
|US$ per tablet||$0.70||$1.70||$0.54||$0.38|
Nuun Sport is $7 for a tube of 10. I have seen it for sale in pharmacies, supermarkets, and GNC, all at different prices. I found it in a pharmacy for $7.20 and at the GNC immediately next door for $10.20, so prices vary.
PH (500, 100, or 1500 – they’re all the same price) is $17. That’s more than four times the price of the Hammer per tablet. But as you saw earlier, PH 1500 is triple the sodium of Hammer…
GU is the second cheapest. Online, GU is $52 for a box of 8 tubes, and each tube has a dozen tablets. So that’s 96 tablets at $0.54 each. If you just buy a box of 4, the per-tablet price goes up a few cents to $0.56.
Hammer is pretty widely available in sports stores, and also online. It’s the most cost-effective, with each tube coming in at a mere $4.95, or $4.75 if you buy three or more. And each tube has 13 tablets!
In conclusion, I would say these products are good for different purposes. But the context I’m reviewing this in is that of the endurance athlete in challenging conditions – heat, humidity, high sweat rate, high sodium losses. And of course price and value.
Precision Hydration is best for athletes with huge sodium losses (either due to high sodium and / or sweat rates or due to climate). I drink 1-2 effervescent PH 1500s before each hot race I do.
However, there’s no reason why such an athlete wouldn’t want to take Hammer Endurolytes, GU Hydrate, or even Nuun Sport as a recovery drink after the race or after training. Why use up the expensive PH 1500 post-race or after daily training?
I do not see the value proposition for PH 500 against any of the others – it has lower sodium and is more expensive. Even PH 1000 would be hard to justify against them, for the price.
Furthermore, the three cheaper brands (especially Nuun) have a variety of flavours to choose from which some athletes may find appealing.
Availability is another thing to consider. Nuun and GU are definitely easy to find, and while you can order the PH from the website, you may have to pay for shipping. Hammer should have a decent retail network too, but I have only seen it in running and cycling shops.
Hammer stands out due to its low price and well-rounded electrolyte combo. 13 tablets in one tube plus that low price make it hard to resist.
In conclusion, I will continue to use PH 1500 before serious, hot, long races, despite its high price. But that is only because I require a lot of sodium per hour – upwards of 2,000mg.
I will use the others for recovery from those races and during training. An ideal combo for triathletes in hot conditions could be PH 1500 (pre-workout) + Hammer (post-workout).
Nuun Sport has decent sodium and full-spectrum electrolytes, along with a massive lineup of flavours.
GU is a harder sell, especially compared to Nuun, as it costs more but has a limited electrolyte range. However, it is cheaper than Nuun or PH.
Hammer Endurolytes Fizz is the best value and has perhaps the most well-rounded electrolyte profile. Its only shortcoming is its low sodium content.
Strong value propositions
- PH 1500 (major sodium)
- Hammer Fizz Endurolytes (excellent electrolyte profile and cheap)
Questionable value propositions
- PH 500 (very expensive and low sodium, only one flavour)
- GU (no calcium or magnesium, not the cheapest, limited flavours)