News and Events
Operation Hydration: Holden MacRae Conducts Groundbreaking Research on Water Bottles
Holden MacRae, professor of sports medicine, is a vision of fitness. As he greets you with his thick South African accent and welcomes you into his office, you'll see the bike he rides to the Pepperdine campus several days a week. In his years conducting research on exercise science, he has learned a thing or two about staying hydrated.
In September of 2009, MacRae was approached by CamelBak Products to do research on how the type of bottle a consumer is using affects how much liquid they consume. "They'd been getting anecdotal evidence that people were drinking more water out of their Better Bottles ®, compared to some of the other bottles that are commercially available," he explains.
The marketing and research executives at CamelBak wanted proof, but MacRae had a different interest. "For me, it's both a physiological interest —if you exercise, hydration is critical, not only for performing well while you are exercising, but for recovery so that you can do the next session optimally. The other interest is, I would like to see these things disappear completely from being made available to consumers," he says, holding up a typical one-time-use, disposable water bottle. "This is one of the most wasteful things we do in this country. They toxify the landfills, and if you leave them in the sun, they leech chemicals into the water that are very dangerous to the body."
The Better Bottle® from CamelBak is a portable water bottle with an interior straw extending upwards to the top of the bottle attaching to Camelbak's patented rubber bite valve. The plastic used is free of Bisphenol A, or BPA, which can mimic the body's own hormones and may lead to negative health effects. Disposable plastic bottles and many reusable bottles contain the chemical, which has been proven to be toxic for human consumption.
CamelBak gave MacRae license to design and power the study however he saw fit. He enlisted the assistance of Seaver students Jon Daniels and Patrick McMahon, and a past student, Jaime Hopoi, and together they came up with the methodology. They recruited 60 subjects to take part in a blind test of four different water bottles: A one-time use, disposable water bottle; a wide-mouth, hard plastic bottle; a screw-top aluminum bottle; and the CamelBak Better Bottle®.
Subjects were randomized into one of the four bottles for the first part of the study. They were given the bottle and a journal, and each day for two weeks they recorded any physical activity they did and how much water they were drinking out of the bottle, as well as noting other fluids they were taking outside of that consumed via the bottles.
"At the end of two weeks, we collected their diaries, they had a week off, and then they were randomized to one of the other bottles for the next two weeks," MacRae says, noting that each subject had a chance to document their use of each of the four bottles.
The journals provided the physiological data about hydration, but a questionnaire at the end of each two-week cycle provided the insight into why people liked one bottle over another. "We presented questions set up on a visual analog scale. There were 10 cm lines on a sheet of paper linked to several questions. We'd ask, for instance, 'Is the bottle easy to use for drinking?' Then they'd make a mark on the line somewhere between "Not at all easy' and 'extremely easy."
MacRae says he was not surprised by the findings that the Better Bottle® yielded higher fluid consumption. "A lot of people in the study said, I'm not going to like [the bite valve]. But within three or four days, they would either e-mail me or when I talked to them, they would say, I love it."
After 12 weeks of delivering bottles, tracking down participants with endless phone calls and trips to their homes, MacMahon and Daniels compiled the data to discover more about human hydration habits, for which there is little existing data. "Women especially preferred the Better Bottle®, while men drank the least amount of water from the disposable bottles," explains McMahon. "We concluded that bottle type does affect water intake in active adults, as does age—people under the age of 30 drank more water than those 30 and older."
McMahon and Daniels presented their findings at the 2009 Annual Southwest American College of Sports Medicine chapter meeting. "Patrick and I were two of only three or four undergraduate posters amongst maybe 70 other graduate student research posters," Daniels says. "We held our own amongst them and not only managed to impress but also receive a warm reception from those who saw the posters."
McMahon calls the experience "invaluable." "There is so much I learned about the research process, from the initial research proposal to the data analysis, and it is all knowledge that I can use in the future," says the sports medicine major who plans to study medicine.
MacRae presented the findings to CamelBak headquarters in Petaluma, California and the company has used the study in many of their advertising campaigns. "They knew up front that there were no guarantees," says MacRae who had no vested interest in the outcome of the study. The opportunity for his undergraduate students to engage in research and present their findings was the real payoff, he says.
MacRae also hopes that the landfills will see their last disposable bottle in his lifetime. "Why use this bottle that is so bad for the environment," he says holding up a disposable bottle, "when you could be using a bottle that we found people drink more from and enjoy drinking out of more? It's a no-brainer."
By Audra Quinn