I’ve been a fan of this New England beverage for years now, but when I bring it up, I usually hear “what is maple water”?! So, I partnered with Drink Simple to share the many benefits of maple water for performance and health, as well as ways to use it!
What is Maple Water?
Spoiler alert: maple water is not diluted maple syrup. In fact, it’s actually the opposite – the pure sap that runs from maple trees. When you hear the word “sap”, a thick texture as you get from syrup likely comes to mind, but it is actually nutrient rich maple water.
Maple water is the product of maple trees pulling water from the ground and filtering it through their roots, where it collects energy, nutrients, and the most natural maple flavor. The spring weather in Vermont offers my friends at Drink Simple the perfect conditions to harvest sap from maple trees, before sterilizing it to kill yeast and pathogens, and bottling it up for us to enjoy year round. Through the sterilization process, the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and even gut-health promoting oligosaccharides, are maintained, which is why this article is covering the benefits of maple water, from physical performance and health to pure enjoyment.
Benefits of Maple Water for Performance
As a sports dietitian, I of course need to start with the physical performance benefits of maple water, especially since I personally enjoy it during long training sessions. While it’s no secret that adequate carbohydrate intake supports training and performance, research studies have been conducted to support the benefits of maple water, specifically.
Helps maintain energy levels
Carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel during moderate to intense exercise, as using the storage form of it (glycogen) in our muscles is the most efficient way to produce energy. Even if you begin a long training session with enough carbohydrate, though, 90 minutes in, your blood sugar levels will start to drop, decreasing your intensity, your time to exhaustion, and your mental energy levels, too. On top of that, carbohydrate helps keep you hydrated during exercise, so replenishing carbs during your runs, rides, swims, or long training sessions incorporating strength training is helpful. Maple water offers 6 grams of carbohydrate per eight ounce serving. This is less than standard sports drinks, but may be helpful for those who’s digestive tracts react negatively to higher carbohydrate solutions and can be a great option for those who like to choose foods to fuel their training and need an easily absorbable carbohydrate boost in their beverage. Maple water is also a great option for shorter high intensity workouts under a variety of conditions. When I was pregnant, for example, my blood sugar would dip quickly during exercise, so I never headed to a workout without maple water (it was also the star of my hospital bag for delivery)!
May support enhanced hydration
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) suggested that maple water has a potential for enhanced rehydration, since participants were still thirsty following maple water intake vs a control. Research has shown that thirst is typically alleviated before complete rehydration, which can result in active individuals failing to adequately rehydrate after exercise. In their study, while statistical significance wasn’t reached, there were positive trends for maple water in regards to urine specific gravity and osmolality, important markers of hydration, on top of the significant difference in thirst, likely due to the greater electrolyte and nutrient content.
On top of this the applied physiology lab at UNT found maple water to be twice as hydrating as plain water after exercise. In a small study, participants were dehydrated during 45 minutes of activity in a heat chamber. When drinking maple water, they were rehydrated 30 minutes post-activity versus 60 minutes with plain water.
May improve aerobic exercise performance
Drink Simple collaborated with kinesiology researchers at The University of Louisiana, Lafayette (now at UNC) to investigate some of the potential benefits of maple water for performance. In their first of two small studies, they found improved oxygen consumption (VO2) abilities during exercise with maple water versus a placebo. VO2 Max, or the maximal amount of oxygen one is able to consume during exercise of increasing intensity, is a representation of the body’s ability to use oxygen for energy metabolism in muscle cells. Greater VO2 Max correlates with greater energy production, and therefore enhanced aerobic exercise performance – it’s actually used as a measure of cardiovascular fitness! This study is new and is not yet published, but I’m already excited for larger follow-up studies to further confirm this benefit.
Offers antioxidants to aid recovery
Intense exercise, whether endurance or strength focused, results in excess oxidative stress for the body. While some oxidative stress is a normal part of aging processes, excess amounts can increase inflammation, limit recovery from exercise, and increase risks of chronic diseases. Our diet has the ability to help us combat excess oxidative stress by delivery of a variety of antioxidants. While some vitamins and minerals are antioxidants, most are compounds referred to as phytochemicals, which there are tens of thousands of. The first study I mentioned that was published in JISSN found maple water, as expected due to it’s nutrient content, to have a higher antioxidant potential than the control. Supporting this, the UL-Lafayette researchers concluded that versus their control, maple water provided a reduction in inflammation. While some inflammation, or stress, to muscle cells is important to stimulate repair processes, limiting excess inflammation may have the ability to enhance recovery.
Health Advantages of Maple Sap
Some of these wonderful performance benefits are related to the health benefits of maple water, too. It’s rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals and the antioxidants are certainly helpful, too.
Provides essential minerals
While maple water offers smaller amounts of a variety of minerals such as calcium and potassium, it is an excellent source of manganese. Manganese is a mineral that helps the body metabolically process nutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins – the two macronutrients you’ll hear me talk most about to support physically active lifestyles!
Reduces oxidative stress
A second study conducted by the UL-Lafayette group specifically investigated maple water’s impact on oxidative stress in non-athletes – particularly in people who hadn’t quite met diagnostic criteria for chronic illnesses, like diabetes, but were close. For four weeks, they had participants swap in maple water for other caloric beverages typically in their diet, such as soda, sweet tea, and alcohol… they did let them keep their coffee! They found a significant decrease in oxidative stress for this group, which indicates their antioxidant systems were functioning better. This can all likely be attributed to the variety of antioxidants found in maple water – as 46 naturally occurring compounds have been identified, including phenolic acids.
May enhance quality of life!
It’s so exciting to me that the researchers Drink Simple partnered with feel compelled to investigate mental health. They added a Depression-Anxiety-Stress (DAS21) to the mix, and while they didn’t reach statistical significance, did see trends for improvements in test scores. They did however, reach statistical significance for scores on increased quality of life when maple water was swapped in for other caloric beverages. Anyone else want to add maple water to everything right now?
Offers a prebiotic boost
One of the many reasons I advocate for a plant based eating pattern is that it offers plenty of prebiotics – the carbohydrates that essentially feed our good gut bacteria. Digestive health has been linked to immunity, mental health, antioxidant functions, metabolism and more. Maple water offers some oligosaccharides, a type of of carbohydrate that passes to the lower intestines to act as a food source for bacteria, such as lactobacilli strains.
Sustainability of Maple Water
The maple water itself enables the tree’s growth and rejuvenation in the spring, the time when the sap is harvested. The harvesting can also help incentivize landowners to keep healthy forests on their land vs. selling land off, which can contribute to deforestation. It takes 40 gallons of sap to provide just 1 gallon of syrup, so by harvesting maple water, farmers may have a more significant economic benefit.
In comparison to other natural hydration beverages for activity, the sustainability of maple water can’t be argued. The rise in popularity of coconut water, on the other hand, has resulted in monoculture farming, which means the over-planting of coconut trees is replacing native plants and harming biodiversity. Unless buying fair trade, the purchase of coconut water may also support practices where farmers are paid unfair wages, working under unsafe conditions, and where child labor is prevalent.
Maple Water Uses
You may have already come up with some ideas, but maple water is most easily enjoyed on its own for the following applications. However, you might be excited to see the last suggestion. While more research is needed on humans, animal studies showed hangover-related markers were reduced with maple water intake. At the very least, you’ll have a delicious – slightly more hydrating – alcoholic beverage to turn to this weekend!
- Pre-workout energy boost
- Hydration during training of any length
- Post-training hydration
- Delicious alternative to plain water on a hot day
- Antioxidant rich alternative to soda and iced tea
- Tasty cocktail mixer (try these 5 cocktail recipes from Drink Simple!)