The Gear Junkie Scoop: Electrolyte Tablets
Drop it. Dissolve it. Drink it. Those are the quick instructions Chicago-based BE Innovations Inc. gives for the use of its quarter-size ZYM electrolyte tablets. The small effervescent drops–which fizz and dissolve in water like Alka-Seltzer tablets–are made to ease the process of converting plain water into a vitamin-fortified, electrolyte-rich sports drink.
ZYM is one of three similar drop-and-dissolve options for fitness and outdoor buffs. Nuun & Co. of Seattle and CamelBak Inc. offer the other options. The products from all three companies come packaged in small plastic tubes containing 10 to 12 tablets. Prices range from about $6.50 (Nuun) to $10 (CamelBak). Over the past four years, I have used these products extensively, and each one is good. The differences come in the flavors each company offers as well as the amount and type of vitamins, electrolytes, caffeine, and other constitutes in the mixtures.
In 2004, Nuun (nuun.com) originally introduced the fizzing tablet into sports drinks. It took sugar out of the equation and created a “fast-acting, optimally-balanced electrolyte hydration drink in a tab,” as the company puts it.
I have used Nuun since 2006 on dozens of trips and training days. The company's flavors, from lemon-lime to cola, are the most subtle in the category. Add a Nuun tablet to your bike water bottle and in about two minutes you get a drink that tastes refreshing and light. There is only a hint of flavor so what you'll mostly get is the natural thirst-quenching quality of water.
The Nuun tabs have 360mg of sodium a piece as well as three other electrolytes: potassium, magnesium, and calcium. There is no sugar, no caffeine, and little else in the Nuun tab, which has the most minimalist approach.
ZYM (gozym.com) sets itself apart by adding B vitamins and, for its Catapult product, 100mg of caffeine. I get a bigger immediate boost from ZYM than Nuun. Its flavors (berry and lemon-lime) are stronger, too.
CamelBak's Elixir (camelbak.com), another sugar-free tablet, costs about $10 for a tube of 12 tablets. This is more expensive than the competition, but Elixir is more concentrated and goes a bit further. Each CamleBak tablet works for up to 24 oz. of water. I often use it in a 16-oz bike water bottle, and the taste is noticeably stronger than Nuun or ZYM tabs. Elixir, like the other tabs, goes down easy. It comes in orange, lemon-lime, and berry flavors. All are good-tasting and refreshing. CamelBak also offers tablets with caffeine.
Overall, I am a devotee to the category of effervescent electrolyte tablets. The small tabs make getting sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other performance enhancers into your system very easy. A final bonus: The sugar-free tablets do not gunk up a water bottle or hydration reservoir like sugary supplements can. Compared to the traditional alternative of mixing sports powder in water, ZYM, CamelBak, and Nuun all offer a superior solution.
–Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.