Walk down any beverage aisle in the grocery store and your eyes will likely be drawn to bright bottles of water.

The labels feature catchy names, tout tasty flavours and boast ingredients such as vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.

It sounds great, but buyer beware.

“Those labels are made so that you reach for the bottle and you want to buy it because you think that it’s giving you something you need,” says Ellie Pompeo, a nutrition coach and GoodLife Fitness personal training divisional manager.

“Vitamin water is the perfect example. There are so many different flavours and it targets a wide range of needs such as increased focus, antioxidants and vitamins.

“You feel like the drink is going to actually help you, but what you’re really drinking is sugar.”

Proper hydration is critical for our bodies to thrive, especially during workouts or exercising in hot weather. Educating yourself about prepackaged drinks is the first step to making the best choice, Pompeo says.

Breaking down beverages

Pompeo divides drink options into five levels, from the healthiest choices to ones you should just leave on the store shelf.

Level 1: Plain water

“Straight-up water is always your best go-to,” Pompeo says. “If you can do plain water and fill it up with some ice, you’re good.

“In its purest form, water isn’t processed. So from a health standpoint, we want to try to eat all of our food in its most natural form.”

Level 2: Infused and carbonated water

Infusing plain water with natural ingredients such as fruit or herbs is a healthy, flavourful option, Pompeo says. So is steeping unsweetened herbal teas.

Keep in mind, she notes, that when infusing fruit there are naturally occurring sugars, so that’s why it’s the level below plain water.

Canada’s Food Guide offers some tasty water-infusing ingredients and advice.

Carbonated water can also be a good change-up.

“A plain Perrier with your own limes and lemons is a great option,” Pompeo says. “It gives you that little bit of fizz so it’s a bit more exciting. It’s still hydrating; it still counts towards your water intake.”

If it’s a flavoured carbonated drink, read the label.

Level 3: Water with artificial flavours or low-cal sweeteners

Products listed as tasting better should raise your skepticism a notch, especially if labels say it doesn’t contain much sugar.

“Where it says natural flavours or artificial flavours, they can hide a certain percentage of sugars” Pompeo warns.

Level 4: Vitamin waters, sports drinks, coconut water

Some of these beverages are 130 calories or more and have 30-plus grams of sugar in about a 500-millilitre bottle.

“Those, in my honest opinion, I would just avoid because you might as well be reaching for a can of pop,” Pompeo says.

Coconut water is hydrating and a natural recovery drink because it provides a good amount of electrolytes (essential minerals). However, it often has a bit of added sugar to make it taste better so it’s higher in calories – sometimes more than 100 calories per serving.

“If you’re working on your body composition, a beverage over 100 calories is not an ideal choice,” she says. “It’s not going to make you feel full and it’s not giving you high-quality nutrients.”

Sports drinks also contain electrolytes, but there are better ways to replenish those without having a calorie-laden drink.

Squeezing a little lime and lemon juice into your bottle of water to sip while exercising can replenish electrolytes and make you feel better, she says.

There are electrolyte powders on the market that can be added to water, but again check the label for natural and artificial flavours that could hide sugar.

Level 5: Energy drinks

These types of drinks often have astronomical amounts of caffeine, artificial sweeteners and flavours.

“Now we’re having something that almost acts like a diuretic,” Pompeo says. “It’s actually not going to help you stay hydrated. It could even have the opposite effect if you’re drinking too much caffeine.”

If you want to indulge

Our daily requirement for water varies by individuals, but a good rule to follow is 30 ml per kilogram of body weight, Pompeo says. For example, someone weighing 68 kg (150 pounds) would need at least two litres (eight cups) of straight water intake.

If you want to include flavoured water, she suggests limiting it to about 500 ml or two cups a day.

“Liquid calories are dangerous,” Pompeo says. “They can have a big impact on your body composition without you even realizing it. Choose your beverages with your goals in mind. Don’t worry about revamping your drinking habits overnight. Make small, manageable changes that you can sustain.”