Fifty years ago life was simple. You’d get old, and then you’d start to worry about your health, while the youth danced carefree amongst the roses. Now, anyone over 50 can barely contain their excitement at the coming retirement, whilst pre and post adolescents alike have become gradually obsessed with ‘trendy’ new ways of boosting their health to superhuman levels. Every week a new berry champions a payload of antioxidants and nutrients: There’s an implicit belief that, if we can just drink enough Strawberry and Banana smoothie, we can undo the effects of last nights Smirnoff (or Marlboro) Red. Self proclaimed leaders of the ‘enhanced water category’, Glacéau, have been paying attention. And so, six neon bottles have hit the cafés of Oxford, promising nothing less than freshly bottled magic to the customer. Vitamin Water strips away any pretence of a cute-sy love for organic manufacturing processes, selling itself purely on the strength of what it can do for you. Ever the sceptic, I called Glacéau on this, and put their drinks to the test to see if this flavour of the month is really worth your £1.95. First up is the gorgeous ‘Spark’. ‘Ever wanted to skateboard down a mountain? …Do a handstand on the wings of 747? …Race a greyhound?’ Man! I just wanted to fix my essay crisis! Thanks ‘Spark’!
The science is less than Romantic. ‘Spark’ is a lethal concoction of guarana (naturally occurring stimulant), Taurine (bull sperm) and caffeine, supposedly sending you straight into the ‘zone’ of higher thinking. I like to think it’s the stimulants, combined with the presumed levels of nutritional pixie dust, that give it the enticing, ‘come play with me’ yellow glow. What’s it like in practice? There’s an episode of Futurama where Fry drinks 100 cups of coffee. Over the episode, he gradually descends into a shaking, twitching, fast-talking train wreck. Eventually, the 100th cup pushes him over the edge, into a sort of zen state, so wired that reality moves like treacle in comparison. This is a fairly accurate reflection of the effects of Spark. Of all the drinks tested, this easily does best on fulfilling its promises.
Revive and Essential, or Purple and Orange to their friends, are designed as the ultimate student assistant; a hangover cure. This isn’t made explicit on the bottle itself, but reading between the lines the principle is pretty clear. Both designed to fully hydrate you, they’re loaded with a good dose of generic super-vitamins too. The application is simple. Drink the purple one as you come in from the usual heavy night with the Archers drinking soc. Pass out in a comfortable position, then drink the Orange one the next morning. In theory, sorted. In America, the craze amongst the (clearly money-rich-sense-poor) student population is to mix your drinks with these, giving you guilt free, healthy fun. I, being scientifically minded, decided to settle for merely getting extremely drunk. Interestingly enough, the drinks actually did something. Not what I was promised, but something.
The-Sunday-after. I was, that morning, still extremely drunk. Giggling, I downed my bottle of Essential, and set off to a morning full of merry, Sainsburys related, mistakes. You might think at this point, that this marked a failure for the centre for responsible hydration. In fact, as the day wore on, events took a most unexpected turn. Having been in this situation before, I know that the evening is typically characterised by the kind of headache and nausea that has me rolling around the floor of the JCR, sobbing for a glass of water, and massaging my temples like Magneto. Surprisingly, I felt fine. I’m not entirely convinced that this was direct result of whatever nutritional voodoo Glacéau are playing at, but it’s difficult still to argue with the results.
Last on the list is the exercise booster, Power-C, which is excitingly ‘dragonfruit flavoured’. The comparison given by Glacéau is with Popeye’s spinach, which seems a little bit of a stretch. In terms of scientific vagary, this is far and away the most fantastical. Promised is beating my granny in an arm-wrestling contest. I’ll settle for a quick rowing trial.
So. The goal is 7500 meters on an erg, in as fast a time as possible. We’ll leave it a day apart for recovery, and start at 8am sharp. Go!
First run, V-Water free. 29:55, a time that leaves me absolutely smashed. Red face, heavy breathing, coughing up scoops of tar…not a pretty sight.
Second run, ‘Power-ed’ up. Surprisngly…28:02! Very, very nearly 2 minutes off. What’s more, I could very nearly hold a conversation without throwing up. What crazed magic is this?!
Standard anomaly? Probably. I think it’s fair to claim it impossible that Vitamin water is going to actually, in the real world, make me a better rower. Or indeed a better friend, a better lover, better liked, happier, or whatever they might promise in the reams of preachy promotional material. The little fitness test highlights something interesting, however. In the same way that I probably didn’t have a religious experience because I drank some yellow squash, and that my hangovers was no worse that evening than any other, I could have exercised just as hard first time round.
You look at a bottle of Vitamin Water, and are confronted by an inner monologue something like this; ‘That just looks like brightly coloured water. They couldn’t be selling just brightly coloured water. The brightly coloured water says it will make me happy! It must actually make me happy! I’ll buy the brightly coloured water.’ And suddenly you’re £2 poorer.
On the other hand, at the heart of all this might be an amazing placebo effect. Exhausted on a Thursday morning, I was trying to write this so I could close my eyes without hearing a voice screaming deadline. Left over from my little experimental jaunt, I had a spare bottle of Spark, the ‘gets you high’ favourite. Downed it, and within about 10 minutes my writers block just disappeared.
The easiest way to get through life is just to trick yourself into things. We make little games when we revise to distract from the monotony, we set little goals of ‘just 100 more words’ when writing essays, or ‘one more chapter’ making notes so that we keep making progress. And maybe there are enough buzz words and optimistic images across the packaging here to convince you that ‘yeah, maybe this can do something to help me’. Which is why I currently feel pretty MDM-Azing right now.
So actually, that first intuition you might have isn’t too far from the truth. When you buy this rubbish, you’re physically just buying some neon coloured, 100 calorie-a-bottle water. But really, you’re also buying a dream. If it makes the morning-after that bit easier, so be it.