#AskAChemist: Is a NFL QB’s fancy water just BS?

In this episode of Ask A Chemist

“Help him with what?,” you might be asking…

As you may imagine, Russell Wilson’s assertion (and subsequent clarification) that Recovery Water helped prevent a concussion was treated with… ummmm… skepticism. Sports Blog (SB) Nation asked “What the hell is Russell Wilson talking about with Recovery Water and concussions?


Another good question is…

Does Recovery Water – or any fancy water – prevent a concussion? Medical doctor @vonOberst pointed to work done by researchers at the University of Windsor. From their @APSPhysiology press release:

A central function of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is to limit brain impact against the bony interior surface of the skull during jarring movements. Dehydration of approximately 2% of total body volume can reduce CSF volume by 10%. In prolonged competition, especially in hot, humid conditions, athletes commonly reach or exceed this level of dehydration, potentially reducing the brain’s natural cushioning system and increasing the susceptibility to impact concussion injury.

Cool, cool…

We were initially interested in the link between dehydration and concussion frequency/severity, however this type of observation was obviously problematic (e.g., measuring game time hydration status in thousands of athletes prior to head injury). Hydration status was unknown, and factors like helmet function (which is compromised in cold conditions) may hide true differences.

Emphasis added cuz that bit seems important.

We hypothesized that if a relationship existed, we would be able to observe an increase in concussion frequency during games that took place under extreme conditions. But given the primary playing season (i.e., Fall), very few games were played in environmental extremes. Additionally, the high level of competition likely insured that athletes were well prepared for games in all conditions. In the end, the overall rates of concussions were consistent across game time temperatures, but a link between dehydration and concussion rate may still exist.

So… dehydration could reduce CSF volume, potentially reducing the brains natural cushioning system, but we couldn’t measure hydration or account for protective gear, oh-and-by-the-way… not so much with the extreme conditions and players not being hydrated? “The results were basically ‘we don’t know’,” says @vonOberst, who stresses that the impacts causing concussions should be our focus.  Being properly hydrated won’t prevent an impact of sufficient force from ringing your bell. “What causes a concussion is when the brain jars inside the skull. So staying hydrated? There’s no link.”

Perhaps ‘Recovery Water‘  is super special? Let’s take a look at its nutrition facts:


Recovery Water is water with some salts to serve as electrolytes, coming in flavors too.  If this sounds sort of like Gatorade or Powerade or Vitamin Water to you… well…


These sports drinks are all really similar. They’ll often use electrolytes sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and/or magnesium chloride, perhaps a bit of  citric acid and/or its common salts sodium citrate and potassium citrate, and possibly some sweeteners plus flavors. Perhaps the biggest difference between Recover Water and Gatorade or Powerade or Vitamin Water? Potassium bicarbonate. Bayer puts it in Alka Seltzer Gold, along with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). These bicarbonates (so-called antacids) give Alka Seltzer and similar products their bubbles. Those bubbles are carbon dioxide, produced when our antacids (which act as bases) react with acids. By the way, Alka Seltzer doesn’t say anything about “nanobubbles”. They’re just bubbles – “effervescence” if you’re feeling fancy.

Thing is… effervescence begins when you drop Alka Seltzer in water (and in your stomach acid) and ends when the reaction is over (run out of one or more ingredients). Bottled water with potassium bicarbonate likely won’t be fizzy at all. Plus, I doubt there’s as much potassium bicarbonate in Recovery Water as in Alka Seltzer – a guess on my part. A good guess, though, as it’s based on our flat bottled water friend SmartWater. This brand of bottled water contains a bit ‘o’ potassium bicarbonate. If not for bubbles, why even add a soupçon of potassium (or sodium) bicarbonate to bottled water? Taste. We like our water to taste like… well… water, but with hint of something.


SmartWater, Vitamin Water, Gatorade, Powerade, Alka Seltzer in water – nobody with evidence is claiming they do a damn thing for concussions. So, Recovery Water?


Featured image is from

Once again (anybody keeping count?!), I confused citric and ascorbic acids. Thankfully, DiscordianStooge pointed it out and this post was corrected at about 12:00pm CT.


DrRubidium is an analytical chemist that spends her days finding needles in needlestacks. Also a science communicator, she focuses on the the science behind everyday stuff and pop culture.

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  1. You are correct and thank you! This is a mistake I make so often, I’m surprised my membership to the American Chemical Society hasn’t been revoked. Even scarier, I write the structure for citric acid, but still call is Vitamin C. One day… one day… I’ll keep them straight.

  2. So, what they’re saying is that adequate hydration increases CSF volume, which allows it to better protect the brain. However, there’s no evidence that sports drinks are better than ordinary tap water in that regard. So, it’s like every other study I’ve read about sports drinks.

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