Athleisure Now Comes Canned

One year ago, Austin Benzinger, who was then working for an electric vehicle manufacturer, was cruising the aisles of a grocery store with a few friends. On the heels of a pickup basketball game, the players were looking for something hydrating—a seemingly simple quest that ended in disappointment. It was there, in the sports drink section, that Benzinger got the idea for what he describes as “an Outdoor Voices spin on a Gatorade.”

“After spending 10 minutes cruising the aisles … two of us walked out empty-handed, two walked out with a bottle of water and one person walked out with a Gatorade,” recalls Benzinger. “Gatorade carved out a strong thirst for sports drinks,” he adds—but what are the health-conscious recreationists supposed to drink?

He and Ariel Irby (who has branding experience in consumer packaged goods) would go on to co-found Courtside, a line of effervescent coconut water–based beverages. The brand counts itself among a growing faction of “post-activity” drinks, which are the latest entrants into the nebulous functional drink space, an ever-expanding market that supplies a hydrating and nourishing beverage for every vibe, ailment and occasion. 

Billed as refreshing beverages to crack open after leisurely activity with friends, the new sports drinks aren’t unlike the entrenched brands. They, too, are formulated to replenish electrolytes, those essential minerals that are vital to basic life functioning and are lost through sweat. In place of artificial sweeteners and colors, though, the challengers rely on fewer, more natural ingredients. Supa Water, a New Zealand–based line of sports drink that launched last year, uses a proprietary electrolyte blend and natural sugars found in apple juice concentrate. Sap’s, positioned as “a drink for sports & everything else” that soft-launched last October, is enhanced with coconut water powder plus a suite of adaptogens (substances thought to help the body resist and manage stress). The line of flavored drinks claims to have “five times the hydration power” of leading beverages.

“Everything that I was seeing [in the hydration space] was very heavily focused on athletes or medicine, like Pedialyte, electrolytes, et cetera,” says Sap’s CEO Jordan Wilson, who previously worked at Biolyte. “There really wasn’t a lifestyle beverage at the time that not only worked well but was good for you and had a lot of functional ingredients.” 

Think of the new sports drinks as athleisure in a can; you don’t necessarily have to participate in the pickleball game to enjoy them. They don’t feature profusely sweaty pro athletes in their branding, but instead 20-somethings outfitted in activewear sets and baseball hats, playing tennis and roller skating. “This is a beverage for both the people who show up to a picnic to play Ultimate Frisbee and the people who show up to socialize,” says Benzinger of Courtside.

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