Avid runners, cyclists and other active exercisers are always looking for a better way to stay hydrated. Now, faculty in the UNT College of Education are researching whether maple water may deserve a spot as the next big thing in post-workout rehydration.
Brian McFarlin, associate professor of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation and director of the UNT Applied Physiology Lab, is working with DRINKmaple, a Vermont-based company that collects pure sap from maple trees, then sterilizes and bottles it. The product tastes like water with a hint of maple flavor and is an excellent source of antioxidants, manganese, calcium and other nutrients with half the sugar of coconut water, said Kate Weiler, co-founder of DRINKmaple.
McFarlin and his team are trying to determine whether maple water can actually rehydrate better than regular H2O.
“Maple water is very high in electrolytes and very low in calories. The composition of it makes it almost the perfect rehydration drink,” he said.
For his preliminary research trial, McFarlin tested 10 participants who performed strenuous exercise in his lab’s heat chamber with the temperature set to a heat index of 175 degrees. The subjects exercised for 45 minutes without drinking, which caused them to become dehydrated. They repeated the trials twice — once with regular tap water and once with maple water. Blood, urine and weight measurements were taken to measure rehydration rates.
McFarlin said his preliminary data show that maple water hydrates two times faster than regular water, meaning that individuals were rehydrated at 30 minutes post exercise with maple water compared to 60 minutes post-exercise with regular water. He also knows first-hand the effects of maple water — in order to prepare the trial for test subjects, McFarlin did the dehydration-rehydration test himself, cycling on his stationary bike in the 175-degree heat chamber.
“I actually tested eight dehydration protocols before settling on the one used in this trial, because I didn’t want anybody else doing it until I was confident we would be able to obtain the exact result we were looking for,” he said.
Despite the grueling nature of the trial, McFarlin said he has a pool of willing test subjects who want to test their endurance in a safe and controlled environment. Now that the preliminary trial is complete, his lab is working with DRINKmaple to expand into a larger trial that will be conducted in 2018. The release of the larger trial results will coincide with a variety of race-related events in the first part of the year.
“We provide real-time monitoring of core temperature, heart rate and other assessments under the supervision of our expert research team and APL medical director so we can make sure our test subjects are OK,” McFarlin said. “A lot of the people will tell us they get some really valuable information, because they say, ‘I would have stopped at this point, but actually I realize I could have gone safely for a longer period of time.’ That’s a big part of competing – linking up when you are actually fatigued versus when you think you’re fatigued.
“We try to find something in every study we do that gives people useful information. Information is powerful, and if you know more about your health, you can make better decisions.”
McFarlin hopes his research will be published later in 2018.
Left, test subjects cycle in the UNT Applied Physiology Lab's heat chamber as part of Brian McFarlin's rehydration study.